U.S. Crop Report Boosts Ag Prices

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Today the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inaugurated its new practice of releasing the monthly crop reports at noon ET. January saw a decline in the forecast for the Florida orange crop, down 2.7% from the December forecast as a plant disease affects both the quantity and size of the fruit.

Perhaps the bigger news was the 17% drop in corn stockpiles. Stocks were at their lowest point in nine years as a result of the drought in corn-producing parts of the country. Corn consumption is forecast to rise through the end of the 2012-2013 crop year on demand for the grain to use as cattle feed. Corn exports are not expected to rise this year.

Cash corn prices are expected to average $7.40 a bushel in the current year, the same level as last month’s report, but up more than $1 a bushel compared with a year ago.

Higher costs will hit food producers like cereal makers General Mills Inc. (NYSE: GIS), poultry and hog producers like Smithfield Foods Inc. (NYSE: SFD) and Sanderson Farms Inc. (NASDAQ: SAFM), and ethanol producers like Archer Daniels Midland Co. (NYSE: ADM).

Corn prices spiked to nearly $7.10 a bushel after the report was released.

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