By Joanna Newman

THE next few days are crucial for US maize farmers, faced with wet conditions as they struggle to finish spring planting.

So far 77% of the maize crop has already been planted in good time, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

But time is running out for the remaining quarter of the crop. The Midwest is suffering from excess rain, with forecasts of more to come.

At this late point in May, any delays caused by waterlogged conditions would directly impact harvest yields and could encourage farmers to switch some acreage to soyabeans.

Indeed, some analysts argue that the USDA is too conservative when it forecasts that maize acreage will shrink to 78.2 million acres this year from 80.2 million last year.

If actual planted acreage is smaller, this could help alleviate maize stock levels, which are expected to swell from 1.31 million bushels to 1.77 million this year.

Overall, the latest supply and demand predictions from the USDA paint a cautiously optimistic picture.

The increase in maize inventory is by no means as severe as the record glut in soyabeans. Maize demand for animal feed is running at healthy levels thanks to record livestock numbers, while exports are also encouraging.

Consequently prices are holding fairly steady, with the Chicago July futures contract little changed over the past month.

The contract settled on Tuesday (18 May) at 221.25¢/bushel.