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USDA Outlook Forum and Planted Acres

On February 15-16, 2024, the USDA held its 100th Annual Agricultural Outlook Forum. During the forum, USDA revealed its outlook for the domestic agricultural economy and trade for 2024. The outlook included 2024/25 crop year supply and demand projections for grains, oilseed, and cotton. USDA is forecasting lower prices for most major crops this year and growing export competition. Complete outlook reports by commodity can be found at AOF Commodity Outlooks | USDA. An important projection provided at the Outlook Forum is planted acres for major row crops as it serves as an early data point for markets to consider. This article examines planted acreage projections and what they might mean as we look ahead to the March USDA-NASS Prospective Plantings report, which is a comprehensive survey of producer planting intentions and provides a more accurate pre-planting picture of the upcoming year.

 During the USDA Outlook Forum, 2024/25 corn planted acreage was projected at 91.0 million, and soybean planted acreage at 87.5 million. If realized, this would mean 3.6 million fewer acres of corn and 3.9 million more acres of soybeans than last year. Corn acreage is expected to be reduced due to declining prices and elevated production costs. While production costs are lower than the previous year, lower corn prices will result in tighter margins. Domestic crush demand in the United States largely drives the increase in soybean acreage, even though exports are expected to face continued pressure from South American competition. Planted cotton acreage is projected to be 11.0 million acres, compared to 10.3 million acres last year. The relative prices of cotton versus corn and soybeans indicate that cotton is more competitive this year than last. 

 The Outlook Forum projections rely on model estimates and do not include a survey of producers. The USDA’s first survey of producer planting intentions will be conducted in early March and released on March 28th in the Prospective Plantings report. Figures 1-3 compare the Outlook Forum predictions and the historic Prospective Plantings reports for corn, soybeans, and cotton. Based on an average of the past ten years, the USDA Outlook Forum has done a decent job predicting acreage compared to the Prospective Plantings report. On average, corn planted acres were under-predicted by 290,000 acres, soybeans by 200,000, and cotton by 115,000. In some individual years, corn and soybeans have experienced significant differences. For example, in 2022, the Outlook Forum over-predicted corn acres by 2.5 million acres and under-predicted soybeans by 3 million. Interestingly, the 2024/25 projections match the Outlook Forum projections for corn and soybeans in 2023.

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