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Published April 12, 2010, 12:26 PM

Report: More acres to oilseeds, fewer to wheat and barley

The region’s farmers will plant more oilseeds and less wheat and barley this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts.

By: Jonathan Knutson , Agweek

The region’s farmers will plant more oilseeds and less wheat and barley this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts.

Soybean, canola and sunflower plantings will rise, as will dry edible bean acreage, according to the March 31 prospective plantings report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of USDA.

Unfavorable weather and prices are expected to cut into wheat and barley acres.

The outlook for corn is mixed. Acreage is projected to increase nationally and in North Dakota, while holding steady in Minnesota and South Dakota.

The widely watched report didn’t contain any major surprises, says Frayne Olson, crops marketing economist with the North Dakota State University Extension Service in Fargo.

The USDA estimates “were about in the middle of the range of what private companies had been estimating,” he says.

As always, it’s best to treat the annual USDA March report with a dash of skepticism since it reflects what farmers, when surveyed in early March, said they expect to plant this spring. USDA will release actual planting figures June 30.

Estimates in the March report could change by then, particularly in response to the weather. For instance, the report estimates that Minnesota farmers will plant 5 percent less wheat than in 2009.

But fields in northwestern Minnesota, where most of the state’s wheat is grown, still were mostly covered with snow when this year’s survey was taken, says Dave Torgerson, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers.

Subsequent warm weather melted the snow and could encourage northwestern Minnesota farmers to go with more wheat, typically the first of the region’s major crops to be planted, he says.

Area farmers generally have limited flexibility in switching between crops, Olson says.

Producers typically have 80 to 90 percent of their land committed to a particular crop as part of their established growing rotation, he says.

For example, a farmer with a wheat/soybean rotation most likely will plant soybeans on a field the year after wheat.

“There usually aren’t many changes with those core acres,” he says.

But farmers have some wriggle room with the remaining 10 to 20 percent of acres, he says.

Soybeans to break record

A record 78.1 million acres of soybeans are expected to be planted nationwide this year. That’s 1 percent more than a year ago, when a record 77.4 million acres were planted.

North Dakota farmers are projected to plant a record 4 million acres, 100,000 more than a year ago.

In South Dakota, soybean acreage is expected to jump to 4.4 million acres, 150,000 more than a year ago.

Much of that increase probably reflect wet conditions in the eastern part of the state, says Doug Hanson, an Elk Point, S.D., producer and vice chairman of South Dakota’s Soybean Research and Promotion Council.

Farmers in the wet areas assume they may need to shift some fields to soybeans, which can be planted later than corn, he says.

Keep in mind that soybean prices have struggled recently, which could affect how many acres of the crop are planted.

Downward pressure on soybeans prices has come from larger-than-expected bean stockpiles and a USDA report that combined soybean production in Brazil and Argentina, the largest growers after the United States, will jump 35 percent his year.

Sunflowers, canola gain

USDA’s March planting report estimates that sunflower acreage will rise 7 percent nationwide, 10 percent in North Dakota and 6 percent in South Dakota.

Combined, North Dakota and South Dakota are expected to account for 72 percent of the nation’s sunflower acres.

The projected increase in sunflower acres is particularly sharp for the confection variety.

Confection acreage is projected to rise 41 percent nationwide, 52 percent in North Dakota and 90 percent in South Dakota.

A short crop of confection sunflowers last year caused processors to be early and aggressive in seeking confection acres this year, says Larry Kleingartner, executive director of the National Sunflower Association in Bismarck, N.D.

The NSA says the big projected increase in South Dakota confection acres has two causes:

- Confection quality and yields have been excellent in the state over the past two years.

- Several processing companies have added facilities in South Dakota.

Canola acreage in North Dakota, which dominates U.S. production of the crop, is projected at 1.06 million acres, up from 730,000 acres in 2009.

It will be the most canola planted in the state since the 1.08 million acres in 2007.

“It’s nice to be getting back there,” Ryan Pederson, a Rolette, N.D., farmer and president of the Northern Canola Growers Association, says of his crop’s acreage rebound.

Canola’s popularity with farmers suffered temporarily when the prices of higher-profile crops such as wheat and soybeans were high, he says. But slumping prices for competing crops has brought renewed interest in canola, he says.

Dry beans see surge

Dry edible bean acreage is expected to rise 15 percent nationwide, 11 percent in North Dakota and 33 percent in Minnesota.

North Dakota leads the nation in dry bean production. Minnesota is second.

“No big surprises in those numbers. Dry beans have been holding their own, and we were expecting an increase in acres,” says Tim Courneya, Frazee, Minn.-based executive vice president of the Northarvest Bean Growers Association.

Navy beans likely will account for most of the projected increase in Minnesota, he says.

Wheat, barley drop

Total wheat acreage is projected to fall 9 percent nationally, 2 percent in North Dakota, 3 percent in Montana, 5 percent in Minnesota and 11 percent in South Dakota.

The estimated declines reflect major hits to winter wheat acres, which are projected to fall 13 percent nationally,

Combined, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota farmers are projected to plant nearly 1.2 million fewer acres of winter wheat this growing season, a result of the region’s late harvest

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