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U.S. farmers planting corn at record pace

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U.S. corn farmers, the world’s biggest growers, may have planted more acres last week than in any week ever as dry weather and more-productive equipment sped up fieldwork, analysts including JPMorgan Chase & Co. said Monday.

Rainfall from eastern North Dakota to North Carolina has been less than 25 percent of normal during the past 30 days and temperatures on average were as much as 10 degrees higher than normal for this time of year, according to data from the High Plains Regional Climate Center in Lincoln, Neb.

Corn prices have slumped 13 percent this year on estimates for bigger harvests in Brazil and Argentina, the world’s largest exporters after the U.S. As of April 18, about 19 percent of the U.S. crop was sown, with planting progress in Iowa, the top corn-growing state, more than triple five-year average, government data show.

“U.S. corn plantings should see a record increase this week of at least 50 percent to a total of 69 percent” of the crop sown, said Peter Meyer, an agricultural-product specialist for JPMorgan in New York. “The one-week record increase in corn plantings of 34 percent in 1999 is definitely in jeopardy.”

Temperatures, measured at four inches beneath the soil, rose to an average of more than 59 degrees in the week ended April 22 across parts of the western Midwest, according data from the climate center. That’s well above the 54 degrees needed to enable corn seeds to germinate within seven days, with adequate moisture, said Robert Nielsen, an agronomist at Purdue University in West Lafayette.

“Farmers north, south, east and west were all out planting corn, and many are already done,” said Terry Jones, who farms more than 6,000 acres near Williamsburg, Iowa, and is vice president of Russell Consulting Group in Panora, Iowa. “We are off to the earliest and best start ever.”

The accelerated progress will improve the yield potential for U.S. corn, said Jones, who forecast on April 23 that more than 50 percent of the national crop will be sown as of April 25. The record completion rate for this time of year was 37 percent in 2004, USDA data show.

Corn futures for July delivery declined 10.5 cents, or 2.8 percent, to $3.61 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade, capping a weekly drop of 3.5 percent, the first drop in three weeks.

Larger tractors and planting equipment manufactured by Deere & Co. and CNH Global N.V. allow most farmers to plant at least 25 percent faster and in some cases 50 percent quicker than in 2004, the last time that warm, dry weather led to record planting progress and a jump in yields, Jones said. The Iowa farmer said he can sow 700 acres of corn in a day with two 24-row planters, up from about 500 acres in 2004.

U.S. national corn yields jumped 13 percent to 160.3 bushels an acre in 2004, up from what was then a record 142.2 bushels in 2003, government data show. The 2004 yield is second only to last year’s 164.9 bushels, when cool temperatures from June to August boosted output after rains delayed early planting.

“Farmers are going fast and crazy” to get crops planted in optimal soil conditions, Nielsen said. “There is a possibility that, with the early start, farmers will plant more acres with corn” because the crop will pollinate before the peak in temperatures in July and August, Nielsen said.

Rains are needed to help corn plants emerge from dry seedbeds, said Jim Gerlach, the president of A/C Trading Inc. in Fowler, Ind. One client with adequate top-soil moisture told Gerlach that the crop emerged from the ground in seven days, the fastest ever for seed planted in April.

“Not only is the crop getting planted fast, but it’s getting out of the ground fast,” said Gerlach, who forecast 48 percent to 52 percent of the corn would be sown by April 25 and as much as 9 percent of soybeans. “We may be setting up for one of the better selling opportunities U.S. farmers will see in 2010, and doing it while yield potential remains high.”
 

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