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USDA projects lower corn, soybean harvests

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[November 11, 2008]    WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Agriculture Department on Monday lowered its forecasts for this year's U.S. corn and soybean harvests, pushing up the prices of both commodities while knocking down the shares of meat producers.

Caption:  In this Oct. 27 file photo, central Illinois farmer Tom Humphrey moves fertilizer from a transport truck to a field spreader on a freshly harvested corn field in Chatham. On Monday, the government lowered its forecast for this year's U.S. corn and soybean harvests. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, file) 

Chicken, pork and beef companies such as Smithfield Foods Inc., Tyson Foods Inc. and Hormel Foods Corp. use corn and soybeans for livestock feed. Tyson said Monday its chicken unit lost $91 million in its most recent quarter due to a $230 million increase in grain costs.

HardwareWhile changes to the USDA's estimates were small, they defied analysts' expectations.

The USDA said corn production is expected to be 12.02 billion bushels, down from last month's revised estimate of 12.03 billion and below analysts' estimates of 12.08 billion.

Corn yield per acre is expected to be 153.8 bushels. Analysts expected the yield to be 154.4 bushels.

The lower yield and production "caught the market off-guard," said Joe Victor, vice president for marketing at Allendale Inc., a commodities broker based in McHenry, Ill.

Corn and soybean futures prices rose in response to the report. Corn for December delivery increased 8 cents to $3.84 per bushel, according to the CME Group's Chicago Board of Trade.

Soybeans for January jumped 27 cents to settle at $9.48.

Analysts said China's announcement of a $586 billion stimulus package over the weekend also contributed to higher prices, on the basis that the package may boost demand for commodities by maintaining that country's economic growth.


China also is building reserves of soybeans for its livestock producers, said Lynn Smith, a futures broker at the Zaner Group in Chicago. "Demand (for soybeans) is expected to continue to be strong," he said.

The soybean harvest is forecast to be 2.92 billion bushels, down from 2.94 billion, according to the USDA's November report. The new projection matched analysts' estimates.

Soybean yield per acre is forecast to be 39.3 bushels, down from 39.5 last month.

Shares of several meat companies fell on the news, and were later followed by the broader market, while the chicken industry seems to be hurting the most.

Tyson, the world's largest meat producer, dropped $1.13, or 15.2 percent, to $6.33 in afternoon trading. The company reported a fourth-quarter profit Monday, and while it boosted net earnings by 50 percent, its chicken unit struggled from higher oil and grain costs.

Shares of the nation's largest chicken producer, Pilgrim's Pride Corp., fell 14 cents, or 16.7 percent, to 70 cents. The company said Monday it has hired a restructuring officer as it struggles to extend its credit agreements. Pilgrim's Pride also has said it expects a "significant loss" in the fourth quarter partly due to high feed costs.

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Pork producer Smithfield dropped 86 cents, or 8.6 percent, to $9.18 in afternoon trading, while Sanderson Farms Inc., a chicken producer, fell 76 cents, or 3 percent, to $24.40.

Despite the reduced harvest forecasts, the department said it expects world corn supplies to increase while the global use of corn as feed falls this year. The USDA lowered its estimate of the average price of corn for the year to a range of $4 to $4.80 per bushel, down from $4.25 to $5.25 per bushel last month.

But that's still above current futures prices, Victor noted.

Separately, Deutsche Bank analyst Christina McGlone wrote in a note to clients that the USDA's report is "mildly negative" for grain processor Archer-Daniels-Midland Co., which makes soybean oil, ethanol and other agricultural products.

Corn and soybean prices have dropped from their record highs this summer. Corn reached $8 a bushel and soybeans $16 a bushel in the aftermath of the Midwest floods in June.

This year's corn crop is still expected to be the second largest ever, behind last year's record haul. The soybean crop is expected to be the fourth largest ever.

Monday's report comes as 86 percent of this year's soybeans, and 55 percent of the corn, have been harvested, the USDA said. That makes the projections more accurate than previous months.

The corn harvest is significantly behind its average pace, the USDA said, due to planting delays in the spring and cooler than average temperatures during the growing season.


[Associated Press; By CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER]

AP Food Industry Writer Emily Fredrix contributed to this report from Milwaukee.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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