The price of corn popped with the recent release of the government's annual spring-planting report, but soybeans skidded. While the report isn't...

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The price of corn popped with the recent release of the government’s annual spring-planting report, but soybeans skidded. While the report isn’t likely to affect prices at the grocery, commodity prices are being closely watched by investors and by the Federal Reserve, as increases in recent years have fanned inflation worries.

According to the March 31 report, farmers plan to boost soybean acreage by 18 percent this year and reduce corn acreage by 8 percent. China is the No. 1 buyer of U.S. soybeans. Crop damage caused by winter storms there indicate even stronger demand this year, as does a shortfall in supplies from South America.

Buying specific commodities can be risky, but shares of agricultural companies — like Archer-Daniels-Midland (ADM) and Monsanto (MON) — stand to benefit from strong pricing and production of soybeans and corn, which is used in biofuels. Shares of ethanol producers, which have dropped sharply in the past year, could fall further if ethanol prices keep lagging behind corn prices.

Historically, soybeans have been 2.5 times the price of corn. At the time of the USDA survey, the figure was close to three times but it fell to two soon after. Farmers are also switching to soybeans because they are cheaper than corn to plant and harvest.

“Between the good prices that farmers have had an opportunity to lock in for this fall’s harvest and the cash inputs that it would require to put a corn crop in, right now the marketplace is favoring soybeans,” says John Hoffman, a soybean grower from Waterloo, Iowa, and president of the American Soybean Association.

There’s still time for farmers to shift to corn, says Terry Francl, a senior economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation, who expects farmers to plant 2 million to 3 million more acres than the report said by reducing soybean acreage. “There is an economic incentive to plant more corn,” he says.