U.S. soybean and soymeal futures jumped to three-week highs on Thursday on worries about tightening supplies and strong export demand, while corn futures dropped as traders shrugged off planting delays due to rain.
Soybeans, which are crushed to make meal, extended recent gains on ideas export loading delays in Brazil could steer more global demand to the United States, where supplies are projected to shrink to a nine-year low ahead of the autumn harvest.
Weekly U.S. soybean export sales were 566,800 tonnes for the week ended April 11, within traders' expectations, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Weekly soymeal export sales of 315,200 tonnes were toward the high end of estimates for 50,000 to 425,000 tonnes.
"Here we are getting into the latter part of April, mid- to late April, when a lot of that export business would be shifting to South America, and a lot of our numbers continue to run pretty darn well," said Jason Britt, president of Central States Commodities.
Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) May soybeans rose 0.6 per cent to $14.30-1/2 a bushel, while May soymeal gained 0.9 per cent to $411 per short ton (all figures US$).
Poor weather and logistical problems have delayed soybean shipments from Brazil, which is in the middle of exporting an expected record harvest.
While labour issues remain a concern, Brazil's main port labour unions said on Wednesday they had no plans to proceed with a strike they had threatened for Thursday while they study a proposed law outlining changes to regulations governing the country's ports.
Even a one-day stoppage would lengthen already-long queues for ships and rack up tens of thousands of dollars in demurrage costs for each day lost.
Separately, USDA on Thursday said exporters struck deals to sell 252,000 tonnes of U.S. soybeans to top importer China for delivery in the next marketing year, which begins Sept. 1.
Corn suffers rain delay
Corn prices tumbled on technical selling, despite concerns that rain will postpone U.S. planting, traders said.
Bidding up prices because of planting worries is "a fool's game" because farmers can plant their crops quickly and have systems to drain their fields, said Jim Gerlach, president of A/C Trading.
"It takes an extraordinary set of circumstances for" the crop not to be planted, he said.
Heavy rainfall of five to 10 cm covered most of the Midwest at midweek, and additional rain is likely into early next week.
Farmers will not be able to do any "aggressive planting" until early May because of the wet weather, said Andy Karst, meteorologist for World Weather Inc.
Wheat feels chill
Wheat prices ended little changed as traders took a breather after driving up prices earlier this week on worries that a cold snap in the U.S. Plains would damage the developing crop.
Another round of freezing temperatures in the U.S. Plains at midweek probably harmed more of the winter wheat crop, Karst said.
Still, analysts have cautioned that the adverse impact from poor weather should be cushioned by the outlook for an overall rebound in world grain output this year.
Weekly U.S. wheat export sales of 1.7 million tonnes were the largest since the week ended Sept. 6, 2007, due to large sales of soft red winter wheat to China, according to USDA.
Sales were large because "it appears that countries are concerned about weather here in the United States affecting the winter wheat crop," said Brian Hoops, president of Midwest Market Solutions.
"They want to get the good stuff before things run out," he said about importers snapping up wheat.
May wheat dipped 0.1 per cent to $7.02-3/4 a bushel, and May corn lost 2.2 per cent to $6.44-1/2 a bushel.
-- Tom Polansek covers agricultural commodities markets for Reuters in Chicago. Additional reporting for Reuters by Gus Trompiz in Paris and Naveen Thukral in Singapore.