Brazil's Corn Exports May Surpass Argentina

South American Crop Watch

Brazil's debut as the world's number-two corn exporter may last longer than its tenure as top soybean producer

Published on: November 29, 2012

With the short U.S. soybean crop this year, there's a lot of hoopla in the Brazilian press about this country moving into the number-one soy production spot and passing the U.S. For now, that may be a one-time fluke brought about by a searing drought across the U.S. Corn belt. But there's another Ag milestone Brazil is likely to mark this year as well.

Brazil is likely to pass Argentina as the world's number-two corn exporter in 2012. While it is generally believed the Argentines will ship some 16 million tonnes of corn overseas this year, Brazil's Conab grain supply agency is forecasting exports of 19 million tonnes, putting Brazil in the number-two slot, behind the U.S., among the biggest corn exporters in the world. The agency did so after Brazil's third quarter corn exports this year hit 11.3 million tonnes—107% higher than in the same quarter of 2011.

And that's helping prices. A lot.

Cash prices here typically range wildly depending on how close the corn field is to a poultry or pork production center. And in a state like Mato Grosso, where last year 13.9 million tonnes of corn was produced and only two million consumed, at least one ag coop went so far as to build a "flex" distillery that could make ethanol from sugarcane most of the time, and switch to using all the cheap corn that typically gets piled up there each year.

But with prices as good as they are—the government here has been liquidating stocks to help livestock producers down in southern Brazil, far from Mato Grosso's bin-busting production—one gets the feeling Mato Grosso's flex ethanol distillery may keep on processing sugar cane a little longer this year than they had planned.

The lion's share of Brazil's expected corn expansion is likely to come from the second crop, usually planted in mid-January, with planters coming in behind soybean harvesters in Brazilian soybean fields.

While second-crop corn production has long been important in Mato Grosso for the rotation, it is growing fast in Brazil's number-two soybean state of Paraná. A good number of that state's farmers' bottom lines were saved when second-crop corn made up for less-than-outstanding soybean yields brought about by a drought that stretched from December through January.

This year, though, producers here appear unlikely to bust the bins with second-crop corn like they did last time around. For one thing, the rains started later up in Mato Grosso this season, which pushed back planting of those early soybean varieties which would give way to corn in mid-January.

That state's second-crop corn yield could drop some five percent as a result, at least one observer told me.

But at least one thing seems likely: Brazil's debut as the world's number-two corn exporter may last longer than its tenure as top soybean producer.