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Originally published Friday, March 30, 2012 at 9:59 AM

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USDA says corn supplies fall, driving up prices

New government data released Friday showed a drop in the amount of corn in storage and raised concerns that supplies will remain tight and prices high in the near term.

The Associated Press

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New government data released Friday showed a drop in the amount of corn in storage and raised concerns that supplies will remain tight and prices high in the near term.

Corn futures surged about 6.6 percent. The report - and the possible impact on food prices - overshadowed a projection by the government that corn growers will plant the largest crop in 75 years.

The Department of Agriculture said corn supplies as of March 1 totaled 6.01 billion bushels, down about 8 percent from a year ago. About half the corn is stored on farms.

Although prices have eased some in recent months, high crop prices have been a thorn in the side of consumers and government for the past two years. Corn is used in everything from fuel and animal feed to syrup for soda.

Wheat stocks plunged 16 percent from a year ago, the USDA said. Soybean supplies, meanwhile, rose 10 percent.

In a separate report released Friday, the USDA said farmers intend to plant 95.9 million acres of corn this spring - above the projections of the USDA and most analysts. That would be 4 percent more than a year ago and the highest level since 1937, when 97.2 million acres were planted.

Despite the large increase in planting projections this year, there are a number of factors that could hurt the crop during the growing season.

"This large acreage number is all fine and good but that still has to come to fruition," Telvent DTN analyst John Sanow said. "On top of that, we still need to be able to grow the crop and it's not even in the ground yet, let alone in the bin."

Wheat crops are also expected to increase this year by 3 percent to 55.9 million acres.

More corn and wheat crops - driven mostly by increasing demand from Asia and the ethanol industry - are squeezing out acreage for other crops. Global supplies of corn and soybeans are already running thin. The situation has been exacerbated by a drought that damaged those crops in South America.

Acreage dedicated to soybean plantings is expected to fall by 1 percent to 73.9 million acres this year. That's down 5 percent from 2010. Cotton planting will be down 11 percent this year, the USDA estimates.

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