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Acreage may be dictated by weather, not economics

YANKTON, S.D. — The recent U.S. Department of Agriculture Prospective Plantings Report contained a few surprises, with United States farmers indicating they will plant fewer acres of corn and soybeans but more acres of wheat versus a year ago.

The March 29 report showed farmers plan to plant 88 million acres of corn, down 2 percent from 2017, with soybean acreage also down 1 percent at 89 million. All wheat acreage was up 3 percent at 47.3 million acres, and spring wheat was up 15 percent at 12.6 million acres.

Farmers in the northwestern Corn Belt indicated they're following the national trends this spring, with fewer row crop acres and more spring wheat. South Dakota and Iowa corn acreage was unchanged, while Minnesota was down 550,000 acres and North Dakota was off 370,000 acres. South Dakota soybean acreage was down 50,000 compared to 2017, with Minnesota off 250,000 acres. Iowa was down 200,000 acres and North Dakota remained static. However, despite these intentions, Mother Nature may have the ultimate say on what actually gets planted, with winter dragging on through April.

Prior to the report many farmers in the region anticipated steady to slightly lower corn acreage in 2018 due to the agronomic disadvantages of planting corn in subsequent years.

"Most Minnesota farmers stick to their rotation of 50-50, and I think we'll see a little less corn-on-corn than we normally do," says Gene Stoel, a Lake Wilson, Minn., farmer.

Brookings, S.D., farmer Craig Converse agrees.

"I'm currently not planning on making any changes," he says. "I raise corn and soybeans, and I like the 50-50 rotation. It works out good in our area."

He says there are more pest and disease pressures in corn-on-corn, and there can be yield drag.

Plus, input costs are higher with corn, and the corn-soybean price ratio has been favoring beans for the last several months. So it was a bit of a surprise to see soybean acres also falling from 2017.

"There's a little more profitability in soybeans or an opportunity to create a profit more than there is in corn today," says Ray Gaesser, a Corning, Iowa farmer.

Stoel says with the current prices, beans do result in more profit per acre than corn.

"Beans probably hold a $20 to $30 advantage right now with normal yields," he says.

The lower input costs for beans also have some banks dictating that farmers plant beans in 2018.

"Soybeans work better in a reduced funding scenario because the costs are not as high as the corn situation," says Valley Springs, S.D., farmer Kevin Scott.

However, despite the economics, the weather at planting time still trumps all. Keith Alverson, who farms near Chester, S.D., says he planned on staying with the normal rotation but admits the weather forecast for April could force some tweaking.

"As far north as we are, it seems like a late or early spring can make a big difference on what the planting ends up being," he says.

With the persistence of winter there are farmers already concerned about planting delays. Curt Hoffbeck, a field agronomist with Pioneer, recommends farmers stick with their full season corn maturities until at least May 15 and their normal maturities until May 25.