But memories of 2012's drought are keeping farmers cautious.
Dry, warm weather from the Dakotas to Wisconsin favors early planting, but producers need to be careful not to repeat the same mistakes they did in 2012.
“The 2012 planting season is still fresh in people’s minds,” said Joe Lauer, agronomist with the University of Wisconsin. “A lot of acres went in real early in 2012. Early planted acres were hit by drought, and rains came too late for pollination. Anyone who planted late came out well.”
Due to Wisconsin’s large dairy industry, Lauer expects corn to remain the dominant crop in the state, with about 4 million acres, followed by soybeans with 1.8 million acres. Wisconsin ranks eighth in the nation for corn acres, but much lower in soybean acreage.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor Index, the entire state of Minnesota, most of Wisconsin and more than half of both North and South Dakota are dry, but at this point in the season, that only bodes well for planting.
“A drier spring would be really good for us,” said Jeff Coulter, agronomist with the University of Minnesota. “With the warmer weather, we are on track for an early planting season. We don’t have any snow cover. It’s warming up. If it rains, the ground is dry enough that the moisture will be absorbed quickly.”
Minnesota ranks third in the nation for soybean acres, with 7.35 million acres planted to beans last year, and fourth in corn with 8.2 million acres.
“Soybeans will be a little more prevalent than last year based on input prices and grain prices,” Coulter noted. “But that might have flipped somewhat in February."
Minnesota producers are expected to be in their fields in late March or early April to plant oats and spring wheat, and they will start planting corn in mid-April as soon as the crop insurance threshold is met.
North Dakota is No. 1 in spring wheat acres with 6.25 million acres of spring wheat in 2014. It also ranks high in soybean acreage at No. 4 with 5.9 million acres. South Dakota ranks third in the nation for spring wheat with 1.3 million acres last year, sixth in the nation for corn with 5.8 million acres, and eighth for soybeans with 5.15 million acres.
“We had a big increase in soybean acres last year. That acreage will likely be maintained or increased,” said Joel Ransom, extension agronomist with North Dakota State University. “Spring wheat could also see an increase, and we could see an increase in durum wheat because prices are good. Contracts have also been good for barley, so we could see a slight increase in barley acres.”
Because their farms are so far north, South Dakota producers like their counterparts in North Dakota have the luxury of making last minute decisions on their swing acres, and this year South Dakota farmers have plenty of last-minute decisions to make.
“There are a lot of swing acres,” said DuWayne Bosse, owner of Bolt Marketing in Britton, S.D. “They didn’t lock in a lot of fertilizer.”
He notes that banks are tightening up on credit, which has producers looking to cut expenses. That favors spring wheat overall, followed by soybeans, and then corn.
“Corn acres will be down in South Dakota,” Bosse said. “That’s for sure.”
For those producers with some flexibility, an early spring favors small grains, but most of the planting decisions have already been made, according to Ransom.
Spring Planting 2015: Upper Midwest
States: Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wisconsin
Top Contender: Soybeans, except in Wisconsin, where corn is favored
Sleepers: Spring wheat, possibly barley and oats
Factors to Watch: Warm temperatures and dry conditions point to an early planting, which tends to favor corn and small grains
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