While the U.S. soybean crush dropped off seasonally in April, it remained solidly above a year earlier, according to the monthly Census Bureau fats and oils crush report. The report also showed unexpectedly low stocks of soymeal, indicating continued strong domestic demand.

The Census Bureau pegged the April crush at 139.2 million bushels, down 7.1% from March, but still 6.2% above a year earlier. The crush estimate was right on the average of analysts' pre-report estimates.

Mill stocks of soymeal were pegged at only 253,771 short tons, versus trade expectations ranging from 341,000 to 416,000 short tons. The stocks figure was down from 336,471 tons at the end of March and 313,362 a year earlier.

Mill stocks of soybeans were pegged at 104.24 million bushels, down from 112.86 million a month earlier, but up from 94.53 million a year earlier.

The cumulative crush for 2001-2002 has now topped 1.035 billion bushels and is running 5.4% ahead of a year earlier. The crush remains on a pace to surpass USDA's 2001-2002 projection, even though that number was raised again last month to 1.71 billion bushels.

Argentine Grain Output Seen Plunging

Argentina's total 2002-2003 harvest of top cash crops will likely fall 6 to 10 million metric tons as economic chaos has dried up loans to debt-laden farmers while costs of imports like seeds and fertilizer have surged, industry analysts told Reuters News Service this week.

The forecast decline in output would be a 9% to 15% drop from the 67.7 million tons of grains, oilseeds and cotton the government expects Argentina to produce for 2001-2002.

If analysts' projections prove accurate, next year's production would be the lowest since 1996/97, when farmers collected 54.2 million tons, and would halt three consecutive seasons of production gains, an official at the Argentine Grain Exporters Center told Reuters.

"We think the total harvest will fall at least 10 million tons, which is crazy. The main losses will be in wheat and corn," said the official, who asked not to be named.

"The (2002/03) planting season is coming and we see planting dropping, the most important reason being less use of technology," he added.

"No fertilizer is being imported and yields are going to plummet. If the firms aren't paid what is owed to them, they aren't going to bring in the merchandise," said the official. Suppliers say farmers owe them about $3 billion in loan payments.