KANSAS CITY — Despite interesting trade tensions with top soybean importer China, U.S. farmers in 2018 planted the second most acres ever to the crop, surpassing corn planted area for the first time since 1983 and only the second time in history. Wheat planted area made a slight rebound, but it still was the second lowest since records began in 1919.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture in its annual Acreage report on June 29 estimated area planted to soybeans in 2018 at 89,557,000 acres, down 585,000 acres, or 0.7%, from last year’s record plantings of 90,142,000 acres. The U.S.D.A. number was toward the low end of trade expectations that ranged from 89.3 million to 90.7 million acres and was below the trade average of 88,789,000 acres. Although the number by itself, or in many other years, may have been seen as bullish, soybean futures ended about 3c a bu lower on the day of the report.
In addition to unnerving uncertainty about trade relations with China, the U.S.D.A.’s June 29 Grain Stocks report provided bearish news for soybeans as well. The U.S.D.A. estimated June 1 soybean stocks in all positions at 1,222 million bus, up 26% from a year earlier and the highest June 1 stocks number ever. Only one other time have June 1 soybean stocks been above 1 billion bus, and that was in 2007.
Globally, soybean supplies are ample, even if not enough to fully satisfy China’s demand should U.S. exports to China totally shut down, which practically no one expects even with hefty tariffs. Soybean production in top producer and exporter Brazil was forecast at 118 million tonnes in the U.S.D.A.’s June 12 World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report, up 1 million tonnes from the May forecast (1.52 million tonnes above the United States) and down only 1 million tonnes from last year’s record crop. Global soybean production in 2018-19 was forecast at 355.24 million tonnes, up about 6% from a year earlier.
While markets for the other two major U.S. crops — corn and wheat — are expected to be less affected by new and previously-raised tariffs, they may well be pulled lower by spillover pressure from soybean markets.
The U.S.D.A. in its Acreage report estimated 2018 area planted to corn at 89,128,000 acres, down 1,039,000 acres, or 1.2%, from 90,167,000 acres last year. Corn planted area was the second lowest (after 88,019,000 acres in 2015) since 2010. For corn the major concern is with top buyer Mexico, where trade relations also are strained.
All wheat planted area, estimated at 47,821,000 acres, increased from the prior year for only the second time since 2014 surpassed 2013, but still was the second lowest (after last year) in U.S.D.A. records that began in 1919. While export tariffs aren’t expected to be a major threat, wheat exports have been unable to compete with lower-priced exports from the Black Sea region and Russia for some time, with the latter claiming to be the world’s top exporter spot. (The United States is expected to be the world’s third largest wheat exporter in 2018-19 with the European Union in the second spot.)
Market sentiment was more evident during the first week of July when agricultural futures declined, including soybean futures down about 10c a bu, with pressure mainly attributed to concerns about trade issues as additional Chinese tariffs on soybeans and many other products were looming July 6. While the fate of those tariffs will be better known by the time readers have this magazine in hand, the size of the U.S. soybean crop remains a question mark, with the first U.S.D.A. survey-based production forecast due Aug. 10.