Prompted by stronger soybean prices compared to corn, farmers in the U.S. are forecast to plant 81.5 million acres of soybeans this spring, an increase of 6% from 2013. That would be a record number of soybean acres, according to USDA's Prospective Plantings Report, issued March 31. Meanwhile, corn plantings nationally are estimated at 91.7 million acres, a decline of 4% from last year, and the lowest since 2010. While corn acreage would be down, USDA says corn plantings at 91.7 million acres would still be the fifth largest for the U.S. since 1944.
Iowa farmers intend to plant 14.0 million acres of corn for all purposes in 2014, an increase of 400,000 acres or 3% more than last year, according to the USDA survey. Iowa farmers intend to plant 9.6 million acres of soybeans, an increase of 300,000 acres, also up 3%.
USDA planting intentions survey was conducted in early March
If Iowa soybean acres do indeed increase 3% this spring, that would contribute to a record soybean crop nationwide. "Producers with corn-on-corn acres are more likely to switch to more beans," says Brian Kemp, Iowa Soybean Association president who farms near Sibley in northwest Iowa. "I anticipate seeing soybean acres in my area increase by 5% this year compared to 2013."
The USDA report says planting intentions are up or unchanged across all soybean-producing states except Missouri and Oklahoma. The largest hike by far, 22% is predicted in North Dakota going from 4.65 to 5.65 million acres.
ISA member Brock Hansen, who farms near Baxter in central Iowa, hopes to be planting by mid-April. But he plans to adjust his 70%/30% rotation which favored corn in past years. "We're working back to a more 50/50 (corn-soybean) rotation this year due to economics, pest issues and several of our fields have been corn-on-corn for five or more years," Hansen says. "Although prices have faded, I feel positive about my current positions with forward sales."
Actual plantings will depend on weather, and economics
It is unknown when widespread planting will occur in Iowa, along with many Midwestern states, which this past winter experienced the coldest and one of the snowiest winters in the last 35 years, government records show. "Weather is going to be the ultimate difference maker whether soybean acres stay the same or go down. I expect that this will be the highest soybean acreage number that we will see unless we have an extremely wet and cold spring like last year," says Grant Kimberley, ISA's director of market development and a central Iowa farmer.
Soybean acreage estimates were in line with trade predictions, Kimberley notes, as was the USDA's Grain Stocks Report, also issued on March 31. The report shows that soybeans stored in all positions as of March 1 totaled 992 million bushels, down 1% from a year ago. "Soybean stocks remain historically tight," he adds. "It would not be surprising to see stocks drawn down to lower levels in upcoming reports due to the torrid export pace of soybeans and lack of significant Chinese cancellations. Domestic soybean meal demand also remains strong as does soybean meal exports."
Some farmers will stick to routine, others plan to plant more beans
Farmers vary in their planting intentions, some favoring routine rotations, while others seek change. Several ISA members shared their 2014 plans in advance of the USDA report:
John Askew, Thurman: "We plan to stay with the same rotation as last year, which is a two-year corn, one-year soybean rotation, while incorporating more cover crops."
April Hemmes, Hampton: "I am sticking to a 50/50 corn-soybean rotation for the 2014 planting season. This rotation has worked for me for years and I do not plan on changing."
Brent Renner, Klemme: "Our intentions are to raise all corn this year. We've been on a two-thirds/one-third corn-soybean rotation for a long time, but inputs have not come down enough to justify the risk versus rewards for corn versus soybeans."
Roy Bardole, Rippey: "At this time, we will be planting the same crop mix as the last few years, which is 70% corn. If we can't get into the field (in a timely manner), we could change acres to soy."
Roger Van Ersvelde, Brooklyn: "I will be sticking to a 50/50 corn-soybean rotation. It has helped with the risk of being too heavily invested in one crop."
Hubert Hagemann, Carroll: "I will be staying with my 50/50 corn-soybean rotation. This provides a longer work window in the spring and fall."
Barry Christensen, Lime Springs: "We will be sticking to our 50/50 corn-soybean rotation. After the prevented plant issues last year, just getting everything in will be a victory this year."
Chris Gaesser, Corning: "Rotation-wise, we will be staying with the 50/50 split between corn and soybeans like we have been. It keeps the risk spread and we can do about as well with beans as we can with corn."
Oat and hay acreage 2014 intentions down in Iowa
So where is the increased corn and soybean acreage coming from in Iowa? The USDA survey shows Iowa farmers intend to plant 130,000 acres of oats for all purposes in 2014, down 90,000 acres from last year. If realized, this would be the second smallest acreage since record keeping began.
Farmers in Iowa expect to harvest 1.05 million acres of dry hay for the 2014 crop year. If realized, this will be the lowest in state history, below the 1.14 million acres harvested in 2012. More corn and soybean acres in 2014 will also come from ground that was in the "prevented planting" category last year, as a result of 2013's very wet spring.
Prospective plantings show need for strong and growing RFS
The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association says USDA's 2014 Prospective Plantings Report demonstrates the need for a strong and growing federal Renewable Fuel Standard in 2014. "USDA's survey shows corn planting is expected to be nearly 92 million acres, the fifth largest corn acreage in the U.S. since 1944. The report shows soybean acreage is forecast to be at a record high of 81.5 million acres, a 6% increase from last year," says IRFA executive director Monte Shaw.
"The past eight years were prosperous for agriculture because the RFS was allowed to act as a sponge, soaking up additional corn and soybeans when needed," he says. "The vast amount of corn and soybeans expected to be planted in 2014 demonstrates the importance of a strong and growing RFS. If EPA's proposal to essentially gut the RFS is allowed to become final, we could see huge carryovers, crop prices plummet below the cost of production, and family farms placed in jeopardy." The full USDA report can be found by clicking here.