Weather Forces Farmers To Shift Plans

Weather problems caused farmers major headaches in 2009, and it looks like the hangover could last well into 2010. According to the latest Farm Futures survey of planting intentions, producers have been forced to revamp cropping choices significantly from their early plans.

Wet fields in the fall and historic harvest delays forced farmers to abandon efforts to plant millions of winter wheat acres, ground that likely will be shifted into corn and soybeans come spring. Farm Futures, which surveyed more than 1,000 growers in December, now puts 2010 corn intentions at 89.48 million acres, up more than 3 million acres from 2009 and 2 million more than suggested by farmers surveyed in August.

“Back in the summer, it appeared any increase in corn plantings would come at the expense of soybeans, with farmers ready to cut bean acres to realign crop rotations,” says Farm Futures senior editor Bryce Knorr, who directed the study. “But the latest Farm Futures survey shows farmers are ready to increase soybean plantings, too, with producers gearing up to put in almost 80 million acres of the crop, around 2.5 million more than the record they achieved in 2009.”

Huge cutbacks in winter wheat seedings are one reason for the shift to soybeans. But farmers could also be forced to plant beans for another reason. “In addition to harvest delays, unusual weather in 2009 meant farmers could not apply as much fertilizer as they normally do,” notes Farm Futures market analyst Arlan Suderman.

The Farm Futures survey shows farmers normally try to apply around 46% of their fertilizer in the fall, but were able to put down only 33% of their nutrient needs last fall before winter weather shut them out of the field. “With timeliness crucial for yields, some farmers may not have a long enough window for the fieldwork needed to plant corn,” Suderman says.

While a significant drop in winter wheat seedings was expected, the size of the decrease could be stunning when USDA releases its first estimate of plantings on Jan. 12. Farm Futures’ August survey revealed farmers were ready to increase seedings, especially on the Plains, where soil moisture was favorable. However, farmers were able to plant just 38.4 million acres of winter wheat, down more than 11% from the 43.1 million sown for harvest in 2009.

Soft red winter wheat seedings were hit especially hard by harvest delays in the eastern Corn Belt and disastrous flooding in the South. Total soft red winter wheat seedings could fall 30% as a result, to 5.9 million acres, with hard red winter wheat down 9% to 29 million acres. White wheat was the only winter class to show a small increase.

The Farm Futures survey also asked producers how they fared in 2009, with both corn and soybean yields likely to fall in USDA’s Jan. 12 report. Farm Futures puts the corn yield at 161 bu./a., for a crop of 12.77 billion bushels, with the soybean yield of 42.8 bu./a. producing a record 3.283 billion-bushel crop.

Farm Futures surveyed 1,044 farmers from Dec. 2 to Jan. 1 by e-mail.

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