Will Brazil plant corn later than normal in 2020?

The soybean planting in south-central Brazil is now relatively on pace with historical averages, but irregular rains in September, October and early November resulted in delays in several states. Those delays are not likely to cause yield losses to the soybean crop, but will result in a narrower planting window for the second corn crop (“safrinha”), which is planted right after the soybean harvest. A later-than-normal harvest will lead to a delayed start to the corn planting and, probably, to an extension of the planting season into March.

How bad is planting in March?
Planting corn in March is not unusual. On the contrary, since the ideal planting window ends in mid-March in several Brazilian regions. But planting in March normally results in more risk, because corn will pollinate under potentially harmful weather conditions: lack of moisture, shorter days and even freezing temperatures in some areas. That’s why farmers are always planning on planting as soon as possible. In normal years, they do plant corn in March, but only in marginal areas, where the yield potential is not exactly high.

Half of the area in March
By the end of February 2020, however, only 53% of the corn area will have been planted in number-two producer Paraná, according to a study recently finished by AgRural. In 2018, when the second corn crop failed in the state due to dry conditions in areas planted later, 56% of the area had been planted by the end of February. In 2019, when the state established a new record average yield, 71% of the area was already planted as of Feb 28. In northern Paraná, the ideal planting window ends on March 15. But in the west of the state, where the bulk of the soybean delay happened this year, the window is narrower and ends on Feb. 20. In that region, planting in March is extremely risky.

Crop failure?
Does that mean that Paraná will have a crop failure in 2020? No, it does not. But the 2020 second crop will be riskier, no doubt. The same is likely to happen in São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Mato Grosso do Sul and Goiás, where about half (or more) of the area will have to be planted in March.

Mato Grosso
The honorable exception will be top producer Mato Grosso, where 90% of the corn area will likely be planted until the end of February 2020 — not far from the 93% planted by the end of February 2019. And, since Mato Grosso represents about 45% of Brazil’s second corn crop production, it seems that the 2020 “safrinha” will not be excessively impacted by the soybean planting delay, after all.

Planting intentions
AgRural will release its first planting intention numbers for the 2020 second corn crop in mid-December. The narrower planting window might make farmers think twice before expanding acreage. Very strong prices in Brazilian reais, on the other hand, buoyed by record exports, a thriving meat industry and currency devaluation, are likely to give the area a boost.

In 2019, Brazil produced 73.2 million metric tons of corn in the second crop. It was its best “safrinha” ever, which led Brazilian total production (first, second and third crops combined) to reach the 100 million ton figure for the first time.

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