Corn, cotton to lead rise in spring sowings - USDA
Corn and cotton are to win this spring's battle for acres on US farms, enjoying hefty increases in sowings, US officials said in a report forecasting crop prices would stay "historically high" for at least a decade.
Cotton seedings will jump by 2m acres to a five-year high 12.8m acres this year, as farmers scramble to exploit record prices, the US Department of Agriculture said.
Corn sowings will rise by 3.8m acres to 92.0m acres, the highest since the last price spike fostered a leap in area in 2007.
The increases will overshadow those of soybeans, whose planting area will expand by 600,000 acres, when compared with updated statistics for 2010, and of spring wheat.
Indeed, a total wheat area of 57.0m acres for the 2011 harvest implies a 250,000-acre decline in spring wheat sowings, given the steep increase in area that growers have already planted with winter wheat.
Seedings of oats and rice are also forecast to decrease, with other area coming from the likes of back-to-back crops and returning of marginal land to production, increasing overall area planted with major crops by 10m acres to 255.3m acres.
'Improved foundation'
The increases were revealed in the so-called baseline report giving long-term forecasts for US crops, and viewed as giving a good pointer of what to expect when the USDA next week unveils more focused sowings estimates for this year.
USDA initial sowings estimates, US crops 2011-12 (yr-on-yr change)
Corn: 92.0m acres, +3.8m acres
Soybeans: 78.0m acres, +600,000 acres
Wheat: 57.0m acres, +3.4m acres
Sorghum: 6.0m acres, +600,000 acres
Rice: 3.3m acres, -300,000 acres
Barley: 3.2m acres, -300,000 acres
Oats: 3.0m acres, -100,000 acres
Comparisons with February Wasde data
The briefing added that prices of many US crops, while falling from current ranges, would remain at historically high levels" throughout a period of forecasts lasting to 2020.
"Over the longer run, global economic recovery with steady growth provides an improved foundation for crop demand," the USDA said.
Corn prices to US growers, which averaged $3.55 a bushel in 2009-10, would not average less than $4 a bushel for any year in the decade, supported by demand from ethanol plants, starch processors and livestock farms, which will return to expansion.
Indeed, "strong producer returns keep corn acreage in a range of 90m-92m acres over the projection period", compared with 88m acres last year.
Wheat decline 
A revival in US meat production will also spur demand for soymeal and with it the soybeans the feed source is processed from, helping prices of the oilseed stay over $10 a bushel, and encouraging sowings to show some further expansion.
In exports, "continued competition from South America, particularly Brazil, leads to a reduction in the US share of global soybean trade", from 44% to about 37%.
Wheat, however, will see a decline in acreage, to 51.0m acres, a figure which would be the lowest since 1970, as prices static at around $5.50 a bushel fail to attract growers.
"With relatively weak overall demand growth for wheat and continuing large stocks, producer returns fall… leading to a decline in wheat plantings," the USDA said.
Indeed, on wheat exports, the US will lose market share to Russia and, nearer term, India, whose exports will "reach as high as 3m tonnes in 2013-14 before dropping off to negligible levels towards [22020]