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By Julie Ingwersen

CHICAGO, March 31 (Reuters)U.S. Soybean Futures increased by 2.1% on Friday, rising above $15 a bushel for the first time since mid-March after the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast for 2023 plantings and its March 1 soybean inventory estimate were both at the low end of trade expectations.

Corn futures ended mixed, with near contracts up on bullish US stocks data from March 1, while forward contracts fell on a larger-than-expected USDA planting forecast.

Chicago Board of Trade May Soybeans SK3 settled 31 cents at $15.05-1/2 a bushel after hitting $15.13-3/4, the highest contract since March 13.

CBOT May corn CK3 ended up 11 cents at $6.60-1/2 a bushel while December corn from the new crop CZ3 ended down 1/2 cent at $5.66-1/2. CBOT May Wheat WK3 fixed unchanged on the day at $6.92-1/4 a bushel, anchored by USDA wheat acreage larger than expected.

Soybean futures rose after the government planned oilseed plantings in 2023 on 87.5 million acres, up slightly from 2022 and near the lower limit of estimates in a Reuters poll of analysts. The USDA also reported soybean stocks as of March 1 at 1.685 billion bushels, down 13% from a year ago.

“What really stands out is that soybean stocks are at the bottom of trade expectations. This … seems to indicate that we could see some price rationing,” said Karl Setzer, head of brokerage research at Mid-Co Commodities.

For corn, the USDA pegged quarterly stocks at 7.401 billion bushels, the smallest for March 1 in nine years. Looking ahead to this spring, the USDA has forecast 2023 corn plantings at 92 million acres, up 4% from 2022.

However, traders have warned that wet weather in the southern US crop belt and heavy snow in the Dakotas and Minnesota could complicate planting in the next weeks.

“These acreage numbers are all theoretical unless the snow starts to melt across the northern plains of the United States,” said Ed Duggan, senior risk management specialist at Top Third Ag Marketing.

For the first quarter of the year, CBOT wheat Wv1 down 12.6%, with corn CV1 down 2.7% and soybeans Sv1 down 1.2%.

(Reporting by Julie Ingwersen Editing by Marguerita Choy)

((Julie.ingwersen@thomsonreuters.com; 1-313-484-5283; Reuters Messaging: julie.ingwersen.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

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