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Will 2014 Hold Major Acreage Shakeups?

March 20, 2014
By: Sara Schafer, Farm Journal Media Business and Crops Editor
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The annual acreage competition is always a wild card. Experts weigh in on which crops will claim the most ground this year.

With the brutal weather nearly every corner of the U.S. has seen this winter, it’s hard to believe some farmers in the South have already begun rolling planters through their fields. For the upperMidwest, planting may still be a few months away. But, questions abound for which and how much of the major crops will be planted this spring.

Corn has definitely been king the last few years, as high prices and strong yields coaxed farmers in 2013 to dedicate more than 95 million acres to the crop. With this year’s significantly lower corn prices, how many farmers will switch back to a more-even mix of corn and soybeans? Or will farmers dedicate acres to other crops, such as cotton, spring wheat or rice?

During its late-February Agricultural Outlook Forum, USDA pegged this year’s acreage mix to be:

  • 92 million acres of corn, (down 3.4 million acres from 2013)
  • 79.5 million acres of soybeans, (up 3 million acres from 2013)
  • 55.5 million acres of wheat, (up 700,000 acres from 2013)
  • 11.5 million acres of all cotton, (up 1.1 million acres from 2013)

 

On March 31, USDA will release its forecast for planted acreage in its annual Prospective Plantings report. What will the report say?

So far, signs point to a heavy swing toward soybeans. Soybean prices have climbed significantly since January. China has been buying hefty amounts of soybeans from the U.S. and weather reports from South America show droughty conditions may clip their soybean production. "The market is trying to make sure farmers plant more bean acres," says Bob Utterback, Farm Journal Economist and president of Utterback Marketing.

Yet, Utterback says crop rotation and agronomic considerations, historically, trump price incentives. "Farmers don’t typically like to shift their production mixes significantly from year to year," he says. "With the dry weather we’ve had and issues with continuous corn, I think guys have wanted to shift back to a rotation between corn and beans."

In Illinois, several economic incentives are in place to sway farmers into planting soybeans. Gary Schnitkey, University of Illinois ag economist, says soybeans are projected to be more profitable than corn, especially if a field was planted in in corn the previous year.

With lower prices projected compared to recent years, farmers will have to carefully assess input decisions to ensure profits. "Farmers will need more bushels to cover the costs of inputs," he says. Since soybeans are a cheaper crop to plant, he thinks farmers could lean that way. "Also, late planting may cause earlier switches to soybeans," Schnitkey says.

A Look at Corn Acres

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