Farmers Rethinking Planting Plans

After watching bean prices tumble recently, some farmers may plant a little more corn.

Farmers will cut back on corn production and plant more soybeans this year, with the biggest shifts in acreage expected in Iowa.

USDA’s Planting Intentions Report released March 31 estimates farmers will plant 86 million acres of corn this year in the U.S., down 8% from 93.6 million acres last year. That’s based on the government’s annual survey of 86,000 farmers the first two weeks of March.

Soybean acreage in the U.S. is expected to jump by 17.5% to 74.8 million acres, up from 63.6 million acres in 2007.

Iowa farmers fit the trend

In Iowa, farmers are expected to plant 13.2 million acres of corn this spring, down 7% or a million acres from last year. Iowa is expected to plant 9.8 million acres of soybeans, up 14.6% from 8.6 million acres planted in 2007.

Farmers cite several reasons for planting more soybeans this year, including the rising price of beans into 2008 and higher costs for fertilizer and other inputs to grow corn. There are also agronomic reasons, as planting corn on the same ground year after year requires more fertilizer and leads to more insect pests and disease pressure.

Despite the expected shift from corn to soybeans, farmers still will be growing significantly more corn this year than they traditionally have, says Tim Recker, a northeast Iowa farmer who is president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association. In 2006, farmers planted 78.3 million acres of corn and 75.5 million acres of soybeans.

Actual corn plantings may rise

“Last spring the USDA Planting Intentions report indicated the U.S. would plant 90 million acres and farmers ended up planting 93 million acres,” says Recker. “So farmers this spring will watch how the prices react and what the market is offering and will plant for the market.”

Since the USDA report was released last week, the market has been telling farmers to plant more corn. “Actually, for the past few weeks, corn prices have generally trended up and soybean prices have moved down, in anticipation,” notes Recker. “I believe farmers will respond and produce for this demand-driven market. Don’t count the U.S. corn farmer out from being able to meet the demand.”

Based on what he’s heard from growers in Iowa and in other states, and if the weather is favorable in 2008, “We are confident that the U.S. will produce another good corn crop,” says Iowa farmer Ron Litterer of Greene, president of the National Corn Growers Association.

Fertilizer and weather are keys

If he can get the fertilizer, Darrell McAlexander says he could add a few corn acres in 2008. The southwest Iowa farmer had planned to plant 60% of his acreage to corn and the rest to soybeans. Now he’s thinking of planting 65% to 70% of his land to corn.

Fertilizer dealers say they’ve been getting calls from farmers looking for fertilizer, which is in tight supply. “With corn prices now moving up relative to soybeans, they may try to plant a little more corn on their swing acres,” says Frank Weiner, owner of Cartersville Elevator, a grain and fertilizer dealer near Mason City in northern Iowa.

Weather this spring will be the biggest factor in how much corn is actually planted, notes Recker. “It’s plenty wet here in early spring but hopefully things will dry enough and wheels will start turning soon.”
If farmers do decide to plant more corn, the seed should be available, says Dennis Judd, marketing information director for Pioneer Hi-Bred in Johnston. They won’t always get their first choice in hybrids, but in most cases they will.

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