Will the Corn Production Forecast Get Smaller

To this point in the season USDA seems satisfied there will be plenty of corn around for the coming year and it won’t be a worth a whole lot. However, possibilities remain that the crop could shrink in size, and that the price might consequently rally.

The price of corn can rally for two reasons. The trade might think the size of this year’s harvest is getting smaller, or there could more demand for the crop - no matter its size. Darrel Good has decided to take up both of those issues. Today we’ll hear what he thinks about the possibilities that corn crop might be smaller than predicted in August. The University of Illinois agricultural economist says a smaller supply projection could result from some combination of a lower estimate of harvested acreage or a smaller yield forecast.

The estimate of planted and harvested acreage should become more precise in October as the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) has a chance to review acreage data reported to the Farm Service Agency (FSA) by producers enrolled in federal farm programs. Last year, for example, the forecast of harvested acreage declined by 742,000 acres from August to October. For now, the FSA monthly reports of planted and prevented acreage will be monitored to form expectations about likely changes in NASS acreage estimates. The first of those reports was released today, with producers reporting 83.147 million acres planted to corn compared to the current NASS estimate of 88.897 million.

That’s a big difference, but the FSA acreage figure will grow as acreage reporting and processing is completed. It is important to remember the final FSA figure will be less than the final NASS estimate since not all producers are required to report acreage to the Farm Service Agency. So far FSA shows 2.3 million prevent plant corn acres have been certified. That compares to 1.54 million acres reported in August last year and the final 2014 report of 1.6 million. While big, Darrel Good doesn’t that that difference is significant.

The magnitude of prevented plantings reported so far this year does not point to a substantial decline in the NASS estimate of planted acreage of corn. It is possible, however, that the NASS forecast of corn acreage harvested for grain will decline. The current forecast of the difference between planted acreage and acreage harvested for grain of 7.8 million acres is only 300,000 acres larger than the 1996 to 2014 average.

The NASS August forecast of the 2015 U.S. average corn yield of 168.8 bushels was about four bushels above the average trade guess reflected in news service surveys. History suggests that the forecast will likely change in the coming month by enough to alter the expectations of year-ending stocks.

In the 40 years from 1975 through 2014 the yield forecast, says Darrel Good, changed by less than two bushels through the August to November forecast cycle in only five years. Since the August forecast was higher than expected this year, many have argued that subsequent forecasts will be lower. Looking specifically at the change in the yield forecast from August to September, the forecast has declined in 19 of the previous 40 years. The decline exceeded one bushel in 14 of those years and exceeded two bushels in nine years. None of this, unless weather conditions change, lead Darrel Good to believe USDA will find much different to report this September.

At this juncture, a case for a substantially lower USDA corn production forecast next month is difficult to make. That picture could change a bit based on actual weather conditions and crop condition ratings over the next three weeks.

The September USDA Crop Production Report is due Friday the 11th.