Corn plantings at 92 million acres? Who knew?

Apparently, no one. USDA’s acreage report on Thursday caught a lot of traders, farmers and livestock producers flat-footed yesterday, and the result was a dramatic turn of fortune. For the worse if you were long corn futures or had a crop growing the field; for the better if you’re feeding livestock or operate an ethanol plant.

It was, no doubt, a long and stressful day for pit traders in Chicago. We were becoming accustomed to volatility in the grain markets, but yesterday gave new meaning to the word.

Millions of dollars were made or lost yesterday, all on the basis of USDA’s annual Acreage Report that suggested 2011 corn plantings total more than 4 million acres higher than last year, and the second highest on record since 1944. Corn acres for harvest were estimated at nearly 85 million acres, 4 percent above last year.

The corn planted area was nearly 1.5 million acres above trade expectations that averaged near 90.8 million acres. That, of course, drove futures prices lower throughout the day.

Livestock producers were beneficiaries of the report and are now left pondering whether this is a time to lock in a price on corn for future feeding needs. As usual, however, you can find market analysts now projecting a market headed in opposite directions. Some believe this is the beginning of a significant move lower for corn, while others say this is only a temporary setback in a market destined to move higher.

Additionally, USDA may send another zinger at the markets next month if they update the acreage report. The June Acreage Report collected planted acreage information during the first two weeks of June. At the time of the survey, a large percentage of acres remained to be planted in four states: Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota. To better assess planted acreage, the National Agricultural Statistics Service will resurvey growers in those states in July.

The reality is that planted acres will mean little come October. More important is harvested acres, and the weather between now and harvest.