The headline grabbing numbers from last Friday’s USDA Planting Intentions report were the 95.9 million acres U.S. farmers plan to put into corn this spring. That would be up about four million acres from a year ago and the most since farmers planted over 97 million corn acres in 1937. Attracting some notice too was the expectation that soybean acres would fall this year by about a million to 73.9 million acres. Traders said they were surprised by the planting numbers for both crops but some other trends and facts about those numbers are also interesting to consider.
A number of economists have looked at those numbers for their historical significance. John Anderson, a top economist with the American Farm Bureau Federation, pointed out how the current acreage expectations are like the 1937 numbers but that’s where the similarity ends. In a recent article, he showed how far yields have progressed. In 1937 the average corn yield in this country was just 28.9 bushels per acre, leading to a total yield on those 97.2 million acres of just two and a half billion bushels. This year, with expected average yields of 164 bushels per acre, the total harvest should give us a crop of about 14.4 billion bushels, our largest ever.
One concern or asterisk some are putting on the report is what is happening in the Dakotas, which were too wet to plant much of their crop last year. This year, North Dakota farmers plan to plant 1.17 million more acres to corn this year, which is basically the difference between what U.S. farmers say they will plant this year and what they actually planted last year. The question has to be asked, though, and is being asked by many economists and market watchers, “Can North Dakota corn average 164 bushels per acre?” The answer will come they say later this fall. Both North and South Dakota also plan to increase their soybean acres by 200,000 as more and more soybean varieties adaptable to that climate come on the market.
Other states, though, are indicating big jumps in corn acres, led by Minnesota. Farmers there plan to plant 600,000 more acres to corn this year and 200,000 fewer acres to soybeans. Iowa farmers will increase their corn acreage by 500,000 while reducing soybean ground by 550,000 acres. Nebraska farmers will plant 450,000 more corn acres and Ohio will have 400,000 more acres in corn than a year ago. It appears Wisconsin farmers will not deviate from recent trends as corn acres are predicted to go up by just 50,000 acres to 4.2 million and soybean plantings will total 1.68 million acres, up from 1.61 million in 2011.
North and South Dakota are also leading the way in the trend of where major crops like corn and soybeans are being grown in this country. Data Transmission Network (DTN) crop experts put together a report showing corn acreage is moving further west and north in this country. More and more corn is being grown in the Western Corn Belt and the Great Plains. According to DTN, the share of the crop grown in South Dakota will increase from 2.9% of the total crop to 4.5% while North Dakota will increase from .4% to 1.7% of this year’s total corn crop. Minnesota will increase from 8.4% to fully 10% of the total crop. Kansas will also show an increase from 2.8% to 4%. Other traditional leading corn producing states will drop. Indiana will fall from producing 8.8% of the total corn crop to 7.5% and Nebraska falls from 12.4% to 11.6%. Iowa and Illinois will remain the same, producing 18.6% and 16.7% of this year’s corn crop, respectively. Wisconsin will drop from harvesting 4% of last year’s corn crop to producing 3.6% of this year’s total U.S. crop.
That same DTN report shows trend line changes for soybean production as well as more and more of U.S. soybean production is moving out of the delta region of the south to other regions of the country. In the past few years, states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota have all reported higher yields than some of the delta states. The same can be said for Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas. That same report also shows that Iowa, in recent years, has overtaken Illinois as the leading soybean producing state as Illinois has dropped from producing 18% of the yearly crop down to 14%.
The official planted acreage numbers will come out in June and with the early planting season some farmers are already taking advantage of, the corn number might even go higher because everyone knows that when farmers start planting corn, they don’t stop and worry about other crops until every seed they can find gets planted.