Another Chance

February 3, 2010 06:00 PM

Dan Peters is tired. "We never got our breath in 2009,” says the Arcanum, Ohio, farmer. "We finished corn harvest and immediately began hauling corn, and I already feel the pressure of the 2010 season creeping up on me.”

The cold chill that blew across the heartland in January seemed a fitting end to the prolonged 2009 planting and harvest season. The January USDA report confirmed prospects of adequate supplies of corn, soybeans and wheat during the current marketing year and left many farmers feeling dazed.

"How do you react to a report that has so many holes in it?” Peters asks. "All I know to do is hold to my 50/50 rotations, but if corn drops much more, I'll start to think about more soybeans.”

University of Illinois agricultural economist Darrel Good says a 97-year low in winter wheat acres could support wheat prices and basis levels in the 2010–11 marketing year. "However, the decline also points to more acres of spring crops,” he says. "More corn acres may be needed, but an increase in soybean acres may not be if the South American crop meets expectations. With a favorable growing season, a large increase in acreage could result in a surplus of corn or soybeans, or both, in 2010.”
Staying Flexible. A cool growing season leaves Henry Everman of Danville, N.Y., bemoaning the wide range of test weight experienced in corn grown during the 2009 season. That fact alone won't change his planting mix, though. "I don't make decisions based on the prior growing season. About the time I change for the weather, it will change on me,” says the perennial corn yield contest winner.

Market prices are another matter. Everman says he probably won't make his final cropping decisions until the season arrives. He applies all fertilizer and chemicals at planting to remain flexible. The practice seems especially practical this year. 

Fred Lukens of Aneta, N.D., might change his cropping plans if he sees a bearish corn forecast and a bullish wheat or soybean outlook in April. "In addition to markets, my early projection for current-year planting is based on what will grow best here this coming season,” he says. Long-range weather forecasting from Planalytics helps him plan.

Lukens signed malting barley contracts in November for 40% of his crop mix. He also plants soybeans, corn, canola, winter wheat and pinto beans. His winter wheat acreage is down 15% this year compared with 2009, and he has no plans to plant spring wheat this year. Canola acreage is up 5% from this past year, and corn acreage is slightly up, about 2%.

Mississippi Blues. In the mid-South, heavy fall rains turned potential record-breaking crop yields into a harvest of heartbreak. Mississippi's Delta region had 600% of the usual amount of October rainfall on the heels of an already wet season. The state is estimated to have lost one-third of the farmgate value of the soybean crop, and cotton soaked up similar losses.

Mississippi's cotton acreage dropped to 285,000 acres in 2009, and gin closings have economists questioning whether growers will go back to cotton.

John Michael Riley, Mississippi Extension agriculture economist, believes cotton acreage could dip further in 2010 in the state, despite a bump in prices this past fall as global stocks worked down. He notes that excess ginning capacity still exists, and producers will need assurance that their bankers will back them before returning to cotton.

"Our farmers are now pretty well set up with bins to handle corn and soybeans on-farm,” Riley says.

Top Producer, February 2010

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