Commodity Corner

Views on commodities and energy

U.S. soy planting record possible, corn out of reach

Photo

U.S. farmers could set a record for soybean plantings this year, topping 2008′s 75.7 million acres. The Agriculture Department will release its initial projection of seedings later this week. Some economists see plantings of 79 million acres (32.9 million ha) given that market prices and production costs currently favor soybeans.

Most expect corn plantings to lose ground as global recession takes the shine off demand from livestock and ethanol. But it would be daunting to break the U.S. corn plantings record even if the biofuels boom were re-ignited.

Corn seedings hit 93.5 million acres (37.8 million ha) in 2007 in a land rush to profit on ethanol. Although it was the largest total since 1943, it ranks 16th at USDA. The largest corn planting on record is a giant 113 million acres in 1932 — 21 percent larger than 2007. It may not give a full picture of corn-growing in America.

USDA began recording corn plantings in 1926. It has records of corn harvest area from 1866. From 1909-18, harvest area usually exceeded 100 million acres, so plantings had to be much larger, to allow for abandonment and other uses. In 1926, for instance, plantings were 99.7 million acres and harvest area was 83.3 million acres, a decline of 16 million acres. In recent years, the shrinkage from plantings to harvest area has been around 7.5 million acres, mostly for silage.

The answer is 99,439. Pass it on.

Photo

During his first week on the job, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said no one knows for sure how many people work at the Agriculture Department. Speaking to USDA employees and later to reporters, he used that startling anomaly as an argument to update USDA’s computer equipment.

Like the admonition against saying “never” or “always” during an argument, there could be a corollary: Never say “no one knows” in a bureaucracy.

Obamamania missing in farm country

Photo

obama1Many U.S. farmers don’t have confidence in President-elect Barack Obama, with many fearing the new administration will not be receptive to the needs of American farmers and ranchers.

A Reuters straw poll of more than 800 farmers at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual meeting in San Antonio found 72 percent of the respondents did not believe Obama would have the best interest of the farmer in mind.

First in, first out in the USDA hunt

Photo

One of the great rules of inventory management — first in, first out — could apply to the process of deducing who will be agriculture secretary in the Obama administration with a wry renaming. In this iteration, it is “first named, first discarded.”

The list of potential nominees deemed as front-runners or consensus choices to run USDA has churned continuously since Barack Obama won the presidential election. And it is unclear when a nominee will be named. Most of the front-runners have faded from attention like flowers at the approach of winter.