USDA predicts fewer corn, wheat acres, but more soybeans and small-market crops

Corn, the star of Upper Midwest agriculture in recent years, won't shine quite so brightly in the 2015 growing season, the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts.

Corn, the star of Upper Midwest agriculture in recent years, won't shine quite so brightly in the 2015 growing season, the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts.

"A little bit of the shine seems to be off corn," says Erik Younggren, a Hallock, Minn., farmer.

USDA on Tuesday released its influential and widely watched Prospective Plantings report, the ag department's best guess of what American farmers will plant this spring. The report can have an immediate effect on crop prices, particularly when estimated acreage of a crop is higher or lower than markets had expected. Price swings, in turn, can encourage farmers to fine-tune their final planting plans.

The report projects a 2 percent decline in U.S. corn acreage and a 3 percent decrease in U.S. wheat acreage. Planted acreage nationally of soybeans, the region's third major crop, is estimated to rise 1 percent.

Upper Midwest farmers and others involved in ag expected the projected decline in corn. High input costs for the crop, coupled with sharply lower prices for it, lessen its appeal.


North Dakota farmers are projected to plant 2.7 million acres of corn, down from 2.8 million acres in 2014.

Kim Swenson, a Lakota, N.D., farmer and president of the state Corn Growers Association, says his group anticipates fewer corn acres in the state this year and wouldn't have been surprised by a bigger projected decrease.

Small market, big appeal

Plunging crop prices have encouraged Upper Midwest farmers to consider planting more acres to so-called small-market crops. The prices of some such crops, which are relatively popular in parts of the region, have held up relatively well. North Dakota, in particular, is a national leader in small-market crops, including canola, flax and sunflowers. Flax and sunflower acreage in the state is projected to jump from a year ago, with canola acreage holding steady.

Keep in mind, however, that the wet spring of 2014 prevented planting in many Upper Midwest fields. That caused acreage totals of some small-market crops that year to be lower than they otherwise would have been, distorting 2014 versus 2015 comparisons.

Planted acres of barley, one of the most prominent small-market crops, is pegged nationally at 3.25 million, up from 2.97 million last year.

In North Dakota, one of the nation's leading producers of the crop, planted acres are expected to soar to 900.000, a 45 percent increase from last year.

Steve Edwardson, executive director of the North Dakota Barley Council, says the grain market wants to build up barley stocks, boosting prices of the crop.


Montana is projected to again lead the nation with 920,000 barley acres, the same as last year. Farmers who raise the crop in Montana tend to stick with it year after year, reducing annual fluctuations in its acreage, says Charlie Bumgarner, a Great Falls, Mont., farmer and president of his state's Grain Growers Association.

Here's a quick look at USDA statewide projections for the region's three major crops:


Minnesota: Farmers are projected to plant 8.5 million acres of the crop, 300,000 more than a year ago.

It's uncertain why the state is expected to buck the national and regional trend. But parts of Minnesota suffered a wet spring in 2014, which held down corn planting and skews the 2014 number, says Bill Zurn, a Callaway, Minn., farmer who raises the crop.

South Dakota: Corn acreage is expected to plunge from 5.8 million acres last year to 5.2 million acres this year.

High fertilizer prices last fall led some farmers in the state to plant more winter fall then, cutting into the amount of corn that will be planted this spring, says Paul Casper, a Lake Preston, S.D., farmer.



North Dakota: Total wheat acres are projected to fall to 7.4 million from 7.9 million a year ago.

USDA predicts 870,000 planted acres of durum, up from 840,000 a year ago. North Dakota is the nation's leading producer of durum wheat.

Spring wheat acreage in estimated at 7.3 million, up from 7.25 a year ago.

Those anticipated increases are more than offset, however, by a projected drop in the number of winter wheat acres, from 870,000 in 2014 to 250,000 this year. The year-ago number was inflated by heavy rains in the spring of 2013, which led to more winter wheat than usual being planted that fall.

Minnesota: Total wheat acres are expected to rise to 1.3 million from 1.26 million a year ago. Some farmers in northern Minnesota who had been growing more corn are switching back to wheat, Younggren says.

South Dakota: Total wheat acres are estimated at 2.7 million, up from 2.5 million a year ago. That reflects a big increase in projected winter wheat acres. Casper says winter wheat in the state generally has come through the winter in good shape and that farmers who planted it are happy they did.

Montana: Total wheat acres are projected at 5.8 million, down from 6 million year ago. Durum acres are pegged to rise sharply, with winter wheat and spring wheat expected to fall.

A wet fall in 2014 held down winter wheat acres, with attractive durum prices boosting interest in that crop, Bumgarner says.



Minnesota: Planted acres are expected to rise to 7.5 million from 7.35 million last year, when the wet spring held down soybean acres in parts of the state.

North Dakota: Planted acres are projected to drop to 5.8 million from 5.9 million a year ago. Because small-market crops are relatively common in the state, particularly in northern and western North Dakota, farmers have more alternatives to soybeans than producers elsewhere, who often are locked into a rotation of soybeans and corn or soybeans, corn and wheat.

South Dakota: Planted acres are expected to hold steady at 5.15 million.

Look for expanded coverage of the USDA report, including more projections for small-market crops, in the April 6 print issue of Agweek.

What To Read Next
Get Local