While ethanol is the shining star behind expanding corn production, not everyone believes the long-range outlook is good for filling a huge amount of U.S. oil needs with crop-based energy. But if the ethanol demand cools off, increased export demand will certainly pick up the slack and solidify the demand for still more corn acres.
For 2007, estimates call for as much as 85 to 89 million acres of corn, up from 77 million acres in 2006. But even with this significant acreage increase, it will be difficult to meet the growing demand for corn while rebuilding essential carryover stocks.
While some industry leaders see much higher long-term corn needs, Barry Bannister, managing director of Stifel Nicolaus & Co. in Baltimore, Md., believes there’s no way U.S. producers can plant an expected 110 million corn acres by 2012.
Some economists believe that part of the anticipated increase in corn acres may have to come from land moving back into row-crop production from the Conservation Reserve Program. While the USDA recently reported that renewal rates for 10-year contracts are running at about 84%, this is 6% less than in recent years. Yet only 5 million acres of CRP land is really suited for corn production, maintains Keith Collins, USDA’s chief economist.
Charlie Rentschler believes ethanol is over-hyped and the industry will peak in 2 or 3 years as U.S. corn production edges closer to being maxed out. “The industry’s progress could stall, or shrink,” says the analyst with…