The USDA's survey of U.S. crop producers last month revealed intentions to plant 81.493 million acres of soybeans this year.  That is 3.765 million more than reported as planted or intended to be planted in June of last year, 4.96 million more than actually planted in 2013, and 4.042 million more than the previous record acreage in 2009. 

The large increase in soybean planting intentions reflects strong world demand for soybeans and the resulting high prices of soybeans relative to other crops, particularly corn. As the planting season gets underway, the job of the markets is to direct final planting decisions of major spring-planted crops.  That is a complicated process surrounded by a lot of uncertainty about the nature of the growing season and resulting yields, as well as uncertainty about the strength of demand for U.S. crops during the year ahead. 

That demand strength, in turn, depends on the magnitude of production in the rest of the world and a number of economic and political developments. There are differing and changing assessments of all of these factors. The market, however, must direct planting decisions without knowing the outcome of these important factors.   Ideally, production would be at levels that provide "reasonable" prices for both producers and consumers of the crops and some level of reserves at the end of the year. 

The USDA projects consumption of U.S soybeans and soybeans imported in to the U.S. during the current marketing year at 3.36 billion bushels, equal to the record consumption during the 2009-10 marketing year. Consumption is large in spite of continued high prices and back-to-back record production of soybeans in the rest of the world during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 marketing years. World consumption of soybeans during the current marketing year is projected at a record 9.884 billion bushels, 40 percent more than consumed 10 years ago. 

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Much of the growth in world consumption has occurred in China, up 130 percent in 10 years.  While it may not be reasonable to expect Chinese consumption to continue to grow at the pace of the past 10 years, there is no sign of a reversal in consumption.  The U.S. should continue to have a large share of exports to China even with another large South American crop in 2015.  Record high livestock prices and a likely increase in biodiesel production should keep domestic soybean consumption large as well.

Under the assumptions of "reasonable" prices, large South American production, and slower but continued growth in word soybean consumption during the year ahead, consumption of U.S. and imported soybeans should be at least as large as during the current marketing year.