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Published July 04, 2011, 05:25 AM

NASS report raises questions; new survey planned

North Dakota farmers, struggling with unusually wet fields, planted a lot fewer acres this spring than they did a year ago, the federal government says. But it’s still to be determined how big the drop-off actually is.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

North Dakota farmers, struggling with unusually wet fields, planted a lot fewer acres this spring than they did a year ago, the federal government says.

But it’s still to be determined how big the drop-off actually is.

Farmers in the state planted 19.9 million acres this spring, 1.6 million fewer acres than in 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service reported on the morning of June 30.

However, NASS later that morning announced it will resurvey farmers in North Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota and Montana in July.

If the new data justifies any changes, NASS will publish updated estimates Aug. 11.

There are widespread questions about the accuracy of the NASS estimates for the four states released June 30. The estimates primarily were based on surveys of farmers conducted in the first two weeks of June.

In contrast to the NASS North Dakota acreage estimate, officials with USDA’s Farm Service Agency estimated in late June that nearly a quarter of the state’s cropland will go unplanted.

“I don’t know if the (NASS) report reflects what happened with planting conditions,” says Monte Peterson, a Valley City, N.D., farmer and chairman of the North Dakota Soybean Council.

The June 30 NASS number reflect farmers’ best estimate of their planting intentions when they were surveyed and don’t necessarily reflect what farmers ended up doing, says Patrick Boyle, deputy director of the North Dakota NASS office.

Because wet conditions persisted after the survey was conducted, many farmers in the state who planned to keep planting were unable to do so.

That’s also true for some farmers in Minnesota, South Dakota and Montana, prompting NAAS to resurvey producers in those states as well.

Minnesota crop acreage was pegged at 19.7 million acres, down from 19.8 million acres in 2010.

South Dakota farmers were estimated to plant 16.7 million acres, up from 16.1 million in 2010 but down from 17.3 million in 2009.

Montana planted acreage was estimated at 9.5 million, up from 9.3 million acres a year earlier.

Corn sees gain nationally

U.S. farmers planted an estimated 89.3 million acres of corn for grain, an increase of 4 percent from 2010, NASS says.

In Iowa, the top corn-producing state, farmers planted 14.2 million acres of corn, up from 13.4 million a year ago, NASS says.

North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota all have more corn acreage this year than a year ago, according to NASS. Even so, wet planting conditions clearly cut into the number of acres planted to corn in the three states.

North Dakota corn acreage in the June 30 report was pegged at 2.1 million acres, down from the 2.5 million acres of corn that NASS forecast before planting began, says Tom Lilja, executive director of the North Dakota Corn Growers Association.

The corn that did get planted generally is faring well, he says.

U.S. soybean acres dip

Nationally, farmers planted an estimated 75.2 million acres of soybeans, a decline of 3 percent from a year ago, NASS says.

In Iowa, the leading producer of soybeans, farmers planted 9.2 million acres of beans, down from 9.8 million acres a year earlier, NASS says.

Soybean acreage is expected to rise in North Dakota and South Dakota, but dip in Minnesota.

A record 4.2 million acres of soybeans was planted in North Dakota, NASS says.

Soybeans have a longer planting window than wheat or corn, which gave some farmers struggling with wet fields more opportunity to plant beans than the crop they originally intended, Peterson says.

Questions on wheat

U.S. farmers planted an estimated 56.5 million acres of all types of wheat, an increase of 5 percent from 2010, NASS says.

Winter wheat acreage was pegged at 41.4 million, an increase of 10 percent.

U.S. spring wheat acreage was estimated at 13.2 million, down from 13.3 million a year ago.

U.S. durum acreage was pegged at 2.5 million, down from 1.6 million a year ago.

But area farmers and ag officials question the 2011 estimates, given wet fields and planting delays in North Dakota and Montana, which lead the nation in production of both crops.

NASS pegged Montana’s spring wheat acreage at 3 million, up from 2.85 million in 2010.

“That (this year’s estimate) surprises me,” says Luther Talbert, a professor at Montana State University who develops spring wheat varieties in the state.

He’s heard estimates from farmers in the state that several hundred thousand acres to as many as 1 million acres originally planned for spring wheat may go unplanted.

Strong wheat prices encouraged farmers to plant wheat later than they normally would, which complicates estimates, he says.

Big drop in N.D. durum

North Dakota’s durum acreage was estimated at 1 million, down from 1.8 million a year ago.

The true number of acres planted to durum in the state this year probably is considerably lower than NASS

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