Senior Vice President, Sales, Supply Chain and Market Development at CF Industries
Thanks, Tony. farm returns in North America for all crops are forecast to be historically high despite higher input costs, setting the stage for another strong year of farm incomes. This includes farmers who will be growing corn, wheat, cotton and rice. As you can see on slide nine, global coarse grain stocks-to-use ratios have not improved over the last six months, driving nitrogen-consuming crop prices toward record highs. The time line to replenish grain stock has been getting longer, not shorter.
We believe it will take at least two more years and trend yields to fully replenish global stocks, supporting continued strong agricultural-led demand for nitrogen. We continue to expect healthy planted acres of nitrogen-consuming crops this year. Looking at new crop futures, returns for corn exceed those of soybeans, which supports our projection of 91 million to 93 million acres of corn planted in the United States in 2022, if weather cooperates.
During the first quarter, our team leveraged the flexibility of our network to ensure that we were able to serve customers by helping prepare for this coming demand. Our rail utilization was at its highest level in years, and we increased UAN barge capacity. We also chartered three times our typical volume of U.S. flagged Jones Act vessels to move UAN efficiently to the East and West Coasts. Rail service to some of our customers has become a serious issue in the second quarter, and we continue to work through those challenges.
We believe that high crop prices and strong farm income will also drive demand for nitrogen in the world's largest urea export destinations. We expect the recent urea tender by India to be the first in a regular cadence of tender activity in the coming months. We also project urea consumption in Brazil to remain strong in 2022. We do not see many catalysts in the near term to significantly increase global nitrogen supply availability. We expect China to resume urea exports in the second half of the year.
However, it is unclear how large the volumes will be given the Chinese government's focus on keeping food inflation under control and balancing the environmental impact of coal-based urea production. Marginal production in Europe that cannot export to the Southern Hemisphere will face difficult operating decisions during the Northern Hemisphere off-season if natural gas costs continue to be high.
We expect Russian fertilizer producers to continue to export but at reduced rate due to sanctions, limited internal logistics and port outlets, difficulty arranging insurance and vessel shipping. CF Industries remained well positioned in this environment, even as natural gas costs in North America have increased. Natural gas forward curve suggests continued favorable energy spreads for North American producers compared to marginal production in Europe as you can see on slide 12.
We continue to work with customers on their requirements for the spring fertilizer application season as weather has largely delayed planting so far. Farmers have proven that they are able to plant their acres in a short amount of time once that weather window opens. While most customers are prepared for first applications, we will leverage our expertise and extend the distribution network to meet the top dress and side dress demand that will emerge after planting.
With that, let me turn the call over to Chris.