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Published April 04, 2011, 06:05 AM

USDA: Corn acres will pop higher

The market wants more corn. U.S. farmers, particularly ones in North Dakota and South Dakota, will try to supply it, the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

The market wants more corn. U.S. farmers, particularly ones in North Dakota and South Dakota, will try to supply it, the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts.

Farmers will plant 92.2 million acres of corn this spring, 4 million more than a year ago, USDA says in its widely watched prospective plantings report issued March 31.

It’s not just corn that will see more planted acres this spring. USDA projects that American farmers will plant 323.8 million acres to the 21 major crops surveyed for the report. That’s 7.1 million acres more than a year ago, although still 2.1 million acres fewer than in 2008.

Farmers on the Northern Plains will plant more spring wheat and soybeans, as well as more corn, USDA says.

USDA also predicts planted acreage of durum and dry edible beans will drop sharply in North Dakota, which leads the nation in production of crops.

But the strong likelihood of a late, wet spring across much of the Northern Plains clouds the USDA acreage projections.

In North Dakota, for instance, the average starting date for fieldwork is pegged at April 26, eight days behind last year and five days behind the five-year average, USDA says.

“The main issue now is whether all the acres (projected for wheat) can be put into the ground,” says Erica Olson, marketing specialist for the North Dakota Wheat Commission.

Wheat, a cool-season grass, typically does best when it’s planted early. The longer planting is delayed, the more likely farmers are to switch to other crops, although their ability to switch is limited.

The abundant moisture is both good and bad, says Randy Hinebauch, who farms in Chinook, Mont., in the north-central part of the state.

“I’ve never seen such a favorable soil moisture profile,” providing an opportunity for excellent yields, he says. “The trouble will be getting it (the 2011 crop) in the ground.”

The later the crop is planted, the lower yields are likely to be, he says.

With so much uncertainty about moisture and planting, “it’ll be interesting to see how things play out,” says Lance Peterson, a farmer in Underwood, Minn.

Lots and lots of corn

Corn prices surged this winter in response to tight world supplies, making it virtually certain that U.S. farmers will plant more of the crop this spring

“The market signaled for more corn, and producers responded,” Tom Lilja, executive director of the North Dakota Corn Growers Association, says of the USDA report.

Producers in North Dakota and South Dakota will respond particularly strongly if the USDA projections hold up.

Together, South Dakota and North Dakota are expected to account for about 1.3 million of the additional 4 million corn acres nationwide this year

North Dakota farmers will plant 2.5 million acres of corn, up from 2.05 million last year, USDA predicts.

This year’s projected acreage would rival the previous record of 2.5 million acres planted to corn in North Dakota in 2007.

In South Dakota, corn acreage is pegged at 5.4 million, up from 4.55 million in 2010, when wet fields prevented some corn from being planted.

The push for more corn acres this year reflects high oil prices and demand for ethanol, says Ron Dodds with South Dakota’s Brown County Extension Service. Brown County typically ranks first or second in corn production in the state.

About one-third of U.S. corn goes for ethanol.

Planting delays in what could be another late, wet spring are worrisome, Dodds says.

Brown County suffered badly from excess moisture last spring, Conditions are somewhat better this year, but “it wouldn’t take much more moisture to send us into reverse,” he says.

Dodds says attractive corn prices can tempt producers to plant the crop year after year on the same field. But doing so will lead to serious problems with crop disease and insects, among other issues, he warns.

In Minnesota, corn acreage is projected to increase to 7.9 million from 7.7 million a year ago.

Wheat acres up

Spring wheat acres nationwide are pegged at 14.4 million, up from 13.7 million a year ago.

North Dakota’s projected increase in spring wheat acres — to 7.1 million this year from 6.4 million a year ago — is roughly equivalent to the nationwide increase.

Projected spring wheat acreage in Minnesota, South Dakota and Montana is about the same as last year.

U.S. winter wheat acreage is expected to rise from 37.3 million acres last year to 41.2 million this year.

North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana all are expected to have more winter wheat acres.

U.S. durum acreage is projected to fall to 2.36 million from 2.57 million last year.

Most of the projected decline comes in North Dakota, which leads the U.S. in durum production. Acreage in the state is predicted to fall to 1.6 million from 1.8 million a year ago.

Montana durum acreage is expected to fall to 510,000 from 540,000 a year ago.

The drop in durum acres was expected because durum is fetching less than spring wheat, Olson says.

Normally, durum, which is riskier to grow than spring wheat, sells at a premium to spring wheat, she says.

California’s durum acreage is projected to increase to 145,000 from 115,000 a year ago. The rise reflects attractive prices for the crop when California growers were planting it, Olson says.

Soybeans dip nationally

U.S. soybean acreage is pegged at 76.6 million, down slightly from 77.4 million in 2010. Still, 76.6 million acres would be the third-highest mark on record.

In Minnesota, the nation’s third-leading soybean producer, projected acreage is 7.4 million, unchanged from last year.

But Peterson, who grows soybeans in northwestern Minnesota and is a board member of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association, notes that projected bean acreage in neighboring North Dakota is pegged at 4.35 million, up from 4.1 million in 2010.

“That’s a pretty sizable increase,” he says.

If 4.35 million acres are planted to soybeans in North Dakota, it would be another record for a state in which soybean production has been on the upswing for years.

In 2001, for instance, farmers in the state planted 2.15 million acres of soybeans — roughly half the number of acres projected for this year.

USDA projects that South Dakota farmers will plant 4.3 million acres of soybeans this year, up from 4.2 million a year ago.

Dry beans decline

U.S. farmers are expected to plant 1.3 million acres of dry edible beans, down from 1.9 million last year.

North Dakota, the nation’s top producer of dry beans, is projected to plant 450,000 acres, down from 800,000 acres a year ago.

In Minnesota, dry bean acreage this year is pegged at 140,000, down from 185,000 last year.

Don Streifel, a Washburn, N.D., farmer and president of the Northarvest Bean Growers Association, says he and other dry bean growers weren’t surprised by USDA’s prediction of a big acreage decline.

Competition from other crops is strong, and supplies of some types of beans are plentiful, working against their prices, he says.

But Streifel thinks farmers will plant more dry bean acres than USDA projects.

The late spring will make competing crops less attractive, and the USDA planting intentions report could boost dry bean prices, encouraging farmers to plant more, he says.

Minor oilseeds mixed

Canola acreage nationwide is pegged at a record 1.61 million acres, up from 1.45 million last year.

In North Dakota, the nation’s dominant producer of the crop, acreage is estimated at 1.42 million, up from 1.28 million a year ago.

North Dakota also is the nation’s dominant producer of flax. Acreage of the crop in the state is projected at 380,000, down from 390,000 last year.

Nationwide flax acreage is estimated at 420,000, down from 421,000 a year ago

U.S. sunflower acreage is projected at 1.8 million, down from 1.95 million a year ago.

North Dakota farmers will plant 775,000 acres, down from 885,000 a year ago. USDA predicts.

In South Dakota, sunflower acreage is estimated at 550,000 acres, up from 510,000 acres a year ago.

Less oats, more barley

Oat acres nationwide are pegged at 2.8 million acres, down from 3.1 million in 2010. This year’s projection, if it holds up, would be a record low.

Oat acreage is expected to drop sharply in North Dakota, Minnesota, Montana and South Dakota.

U.S. farmers expect to plant 2.95 million acres of barley, up from 2.87 million last year.

Montana and Minnesota producers are expected to plant more barley, while North Dakota and South Dakota farmers are projected to plant less.

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