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Soybean Switch: Brazil Set to Outpace U.S. Production

October 30, 2012
By: Boyce Thompson, AgWeb.com Editorial Director google + 
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The drought will knock the U.S. from its top position in the world soybean market, according to USDA estimates.

A government forecast indicates Brazil will replace the U.S. as the top producer of soybeans in the world during the 2012-13 harvest seasons.

"This is first year that we’re forecasting that Brazil alone will out-produce the U.S. in soybeans," says Gerald Bange, the USDA official responsible for keeping the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates. Speaking at the Future Farm World Americas conference in San Francisco this week, Bange presented a post-drought update on the world agricultural situation.

The agency’s latest report estimates that Brazil will produce 81 million tons of soybeans during this harvest year, compared to 77.8 million tons for the U.S. The U.S. probably would have retained its lead were it not for this year’s severe drought.

Soybean production in the U.S. is expected to drop 7.5% from last year, by USDA estimates, while production in Brazil will increase 21.8% thanks in part to strides there in developing land suitable for growing soybeans.

Bange notes that final data on world soybean production won’t be available for a while "because they’ve just planted in the Southern Hemisphere. But the crop that was just planted in Brazil looks good. The same with Argentina. These countries had trouble last year."

U.S. Holds Title for Corn Production

The U.S. remains the world’s biggest corn producer at 272 million metric tons, but other countries, particularly China, are coming on strong. China will produce 200 million metric tons of corn in 2012-2013, up 4% over the previous year. Brazil is on a course to generate 70 million metric tons of corn.

Bange told the crowd that the current situation in the corn market—high prices and short supply —would be much worse if the rest of the world weren’t producing more corn. World corn production will be down 4.4% during this harvest year.

The fall-off in U.S. corn production comes as foreign consumption is rising, particularly in Asia. U.S. producers this year moved to meet that demand, planting 96.9 million acres of corn. That was one of the biggest numbers in decades, but not in history: U.S. farmers actually planted more corn in 1937, Bange says.

Back then, they could expect yields of only 30 bushels per acre. Now, yields of approximately 150 bushels per acre are normal. "If you do the math, at today’s prices, you find that 10.7 billion bushels is more valuable to farmers than the 14 billion that was expected."

This year’s drought is roughly equivalent to that of 1988, Bange said. But it has had a far bigger impact on prices. "Back then, we had 4 billion bushels in inventory, back stock, going into the situation," Bange says. "This year, we have 1 billion."

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