Argentina corn farmers launch a late planting blitz to avoid summer dryness

3 minute read

Corn plants are seen at sunset in a farm near Pergamino during the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Argentina July 4, 2020. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

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BUENOS AIRES, Dec 9 (Reuters) - Argentine corn farmers are set for a late season planting blitz to avoid possible dryness over the months ahead, a strategy expected to propel both a record harvest and record exports from the world's second largest supplier of the grain.

The South American nation, also a major producer of soybeans and wheat, is facing a La Nina cycle which usually means lower rainfall. It has made producers wary about possible dryness during the Southern Hemisphere summer, despite generally good rainfall so far this season.

Fear of dry weather ahead has driven a shift towards late season planting from December onwards, with some 55%-60% of expected corn planting to come in that period, according to local corn industry chamber MAIZAR, up from 52% last season.

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The strategy is likely to drive record corn exports from the current 2021/22 crop year just as global corn demand nears historic highs, MAIZAR head Alberto Morelli told Reuters.

With late planting starting this month, the Buenos Aires Grains Exchange said on Thursday that only 39.5% of this season's corn has been sown so far, versus 47% at the same point last season.

A week earlier the exchange increased its 2021/22 corn harvest forecast to a record 57 million tonnes. Argentina ships some 70% of its corn overseas.

"It is likely that there will be record exports," Morelli said. "Regarding early-planted corn, most areas have had good rains, allowing for good crop development. The higher percentage of late-planted corn is in order to avoid any lack of summer water when flowering begins."

Early-sown corn in Argentina is harvested in March through April, while harvesting of late-planted crops goes through July.

Through November exporters bought 10.8 million tonnes of 2021/22 corn from Argentine farmers in the forward market, up from 10.2 million tonnes at the same 2020/21 period. Top importers of Argentine corn include Vietnam, Egypt and Algeria.

Argentina's neighbor and rival exporter Brazil has already seen its crop hit by drought. In Brazil's southern states including Rio Grande do Sul, scant rains in November and dryness in early December has taken a toll. read more

POST-PANDEMIC CORN BOOM

Global buying has soared as demand for corn-fed meat and biofuels made from the grain rebounds. In cities worldwide consumers are starting to return to restaurants and resuming travel after nearly two years of coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

Benchmark Chicago Board of Trade corn futures rallied to an eight-year peak in May and prices remain well above historic norms even as global production is forecast to reach a record 1.2 billion tonnes this season.

German Heinzenknecht, a meteorologist at Argentine consultancy Applied Climatology, said more farmers are planting late in the season "as a defense mechanism against summer dryness." Summer in Argentina starts on Dec. 21.

"This year, the concern is justified," Heinzenknecht added. "Some areas are already very dry and could get worse."

Total area expected to be planted with corn in Argentina is estimated by the exchange at 7.3 million hectares (18 million acres) in 2021/22, up from 6.9 million hectares in the 2020/21 season.

"I planted early in places like Rojas and Trenque Lauquen (Buenos Aires province) where it had rained. I've postponed sowing in southern Cordoba, where it's all getting planted late due to dryness," said Argentine grower Francisco Santillan.

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Reporting by Hugh Bronstein and Maximilian Heath, additional reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago and Ana Mano in Brazil, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien and Marguerita Choy

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