WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in its annual Prospective Plantings report surprised the trade with a larger-than-expected increase in 2016 corn planting intentions but lower-than-expected wheat and soybean intentions.

The USDA said farmers intend to plant 93.6 million acres of corn in 2016, up 6% from 2015, the highest since 2013 and the third highest since 1944. The USDA number was above trade expectations that averaged near 90.047 million acres and ranged from 89 million to 91.5 million.

The USDA said farmers intend to plant more corn in 2016 mainly because of expected higher returns relative to other crops.

The USDA said all wheat planted for harvest in 2016 was expected to total 49.55 million acres, down 9% from a year earlier and the lowest since 48.7 million acres in 1970. The USDA number was below trade expectations that averaged 51.659 million acres and ranged from 50.7 million to 53.3 million.

Winter wheat acreage, which was planted last fall, was estimated at 36.216 million acres, down 8% from last year and down 1% from the previous estimate. Hard red winter wheat area was estimated at 26.2 million acres, soft red winter at 6.6 million and white winter at 3.37 million.

Area for spring wheat other than durum was expected to be 11.348 million acres, down 14% from 2015 and the lowest since 1972, with hard red spring wheat area at 10.7 million acres.

Farmers intend to plant 1.995 million acres of durum in 2016, up 3% from 2015.
The USDA numbers were below the average and full range of trade expectations for winter and spring wheat but above the range for durum.

Soybean planting intentions totaled 82.236 million acres, down less than 1% from 2015, the USDA said. The USDA number fell within the range of trade expectations but was below the average of 82.946 million acres.

Corn futures were sharply lower shortly after the report, with soybean futures down slightly on spillover pressure from corn despite the lower soybean acreage forecast. Spring wheat futures were sharply higher after the report, and helped pull hard red and soft red winter futures higher as well.