South American Corn Yield to Drop from Pest Pressure

South American corn production numbers will be lower than expected, especially in Argentina. Dr. Michael Cordonnier with Soybean and Corn Advisors, Inc., says Argentina’s corn crop is suffering from unexpected pest pressure.

“USDA left their soybean estimate unchanged at 50 (million tons). But they did lower their corn by one million 55. The big news in Argentina is damage caused by a corn stunt disease. This is a disease transmitted by a little moth called corn leaf hopper, and it causes a lot of damage to corn, especially in late-developing corn. Now the Buenos Aires Grain Exchange, they lowered their corn estimate two-and-a-half million to 49-and-a-half, and these estimates are six to seven million times below initial estimates.”

The process Argentina farmers use to plant their corn is conducive for the plant pests to spread.

“The thing in Argentina is they plant their corn in two phases. The first phase is September-October when they plant about 40 percent of the corn, and the second phase is December and January when they plant about 60 percent. These corn leaf hoppers move from more developed corn to later-developing corn. The later the corn, the more chances of being infected by this corn stunt disease, which is a bacterial disease. Once the plant has it, there’s no recuperation.”

Corn leaf hoppers are new to Argentina’s farmers. Argentina’s corn production will take a big drop because of the pests.

“That’s a big drop. six to seven billion tons, that would be like 10 to 15 percent depending on where you started. So yes, that’s a big drop, and it came sort of all of a sudden. Two months ago, no one was worried about this, so it came out of the clear blue skies, so to speak. And normally the market would respond to something like this, but the market has so many other sorts of negative connotations; China demand and exports, all that sort of thing so, the market hasn’t responded. Now to answer your question, that’s a big drop.”

Soybean harvest is ongoing in Argentina. Cordonnier says despite the unexpected pest outbreak, early corn and soybean yields are good.

“Soybeans look good. Early yields are good, and I think the soybeans are gonna do fine. The early corn yields are really good, but everybody says the first yields are gonna be the best. The later yields are going to be the worst.”

He says Brazil’s corn projections recently dropped because of dry weather.

“Conab did trim the soybeans a little bit, by three-tenths of a million tons to 146-and-a-half, but they did take a big bite out of the corn. They lowered it by 1.8 million to 111 million tons, and for the corn, it all came from the safrinha crop. They lowered the yields by about two bushels per acre. I would say 30 to 40 percent of the safrinha corn in the southern areas needs rain. They’ve gotten a little bit, but they need a lot more, so that’s going to be an ongoing concern, I think, for the safrinha crop in Brazil. The soybeans are about 85 percent harvested, so they’re getting pretty close to being done.”

There’s a significant difference in South American harvest predictions.

“USDA has much higher estimates than Conab in Brazil. I guess USDA has a bigger acreage than Conab does for soybeans and corn in Brazil, which is kind of a dilemma. They both say they use satellite technology to estimate the acreage and people on the ground, especially for Conab. They estimate the acreage, but the acreage numbers are way different, so I’m not quite sure who to believe.”

He predicts the soybean crop will be five to six million tons larger than last year, but corn production will be much lower than in 2023.