Editor's note: What should you expect in USDA's March 31 Prospective Plantings report? AgWeb.com editors are providing you in-depth looks at six key regions that will affect this year’s acreage mix.
A full one-third of the nation’s corn acreage was planted in just three states last year, the so-called "I-states." Therefore, 2014 crop mixes for producers in Iowa, Illinois and Indiana have not only U.S., but also global implications.
Forecasters are more divided than usual on what producers will decide once planters roll, but experts on the ground in the I-states look for only a marginal switch from corn to soybeans.
"I conducted 10 meetings in January and February of about 50 producers each and in each meeting only one or two producers said they would plant more soybeans this year," says Darrel Good, University of Illinois ag economist. In Illinois—almost exclusively a corn/soybean state—Good sees less switching to beans than states with more diversity.
Good also suggests not to consider Prospective Plantings the final word, rather the opening volley. Farmers may well change the minds on what they say they’ll plant in early March when the Planting Intentions survey was conducted and their final decisions.
In 2007, 3 million more corn acres were planted than Planting Intentions indicated, but 1.9 million fewer acres last year. For soybeans, in 2012, 3.3 million more acres were planted than the Planting Intentions survey found, but 2.4 million less in 2007. Moreover, Good says that if the market concludes on March 31 that farmers intend to plant too few corn acres, "it will likely incentivize farmers to plant more."
One wild card as the vernal equinox approached was the prospects of a late spring. If wet and cold conditions persist, it may delay planting – which tends to result in lower corn yields as opposed to soybean yields. But such a delay would need to persist beyond mid- or late-May before most producers would consider abandoning corn in favor of soybeans, says Emerson Nafziger, University of Illinois agronomist.
Corn following corn did well in 2013 and Nafziger is not looking for much of a shift to soybeans for agronomic reasons. "Not only that, some producers are coming off very high corn yields in 2013 and 220-bushel corn carries more weight for many than even 70-bushel soybeans."
"In Iowa, we won’t have much of a switch to soybeans," predicts Steve Johnson, farm management specialist at Iowa State University. He gives three key reasons why:
- Iowa had record prevent plant in 2013 and the majority of that will go back to corn.
- Cash rents above $350/acre favor corn.
- A lot of producers have invested in machinery, equipment and grain storage for corn, so they’re geared up to plant it.
One factor separates Iowa from the other two I-states that further bias producers in favor of corn, Johnson says. "Iowa is a corn-deficit state, importing corn from Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota to fuel ethanol and feed demand." That shows up as tight basis.