DES MOINES, Iowa – Farmers intend to plant 97.3 million acres of corn this year, the most since 1936, the USDA’s spring planting survey said Thursday.
The overall corn acreage forecast is up slightly from last year’s 97.2 million acres and reflects a shift in where the grain is grown. Acreage in some states hit hardest by last year’s drought retreated, while Southern states such as Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas are shifting cotton acres to corn.
Chad Hart, an agriculture economist at Iowa State University, said Texas is a prime example. The state is changing more than 1 million acres normally planted in cotton for corn. Farmers there are in desperate need of grain to feed livestock after two years of debilitating drought, and are betting on a corn crop to replenish feed, Hart said.
Corn remains profitable, as prices are holding strong at around $7 per bushel because drought conditions left the grain in short supply. Corn stocks fell 10 percent from a year ago to 5.40 billion bushels, the lowest March stockpiles since 2003, the USDA said in a separate report Thursday.
Corn prices fell Thursday after the report was released, as it showed there was 7 percent more corn stockpiled than expected.
Record corn acreage is expected in Arizona, Idaho, Minnesota, Nevada, North Dakota and Oregon. Iowa, the nation’s leading corn producer, will plant an estimated 14.2 million acres in corn, the same as last year. And Minnesota is up 3 percent to 9 million acres.
But the states that suffered significantly during last year’s drought – the worst since the 1950s – expect to plant slightly less corn acreage: Illinois’ acres are down 5 percent to 12.2 million and Nebraska corn acres are down 1 percent at 9.9 million acres.
Darrel Good, an agriculture economics professor at the University of Illinois, said with plenty of land available for planting, the weather now becomes a focal point.
“The attention will focus very quickly on planting weather and thoughts of yield prospects,” he said. “The question is what kind of summer we’re going to have.”
Temperatures remain below normal throughout much of the Midwest. Missouri is weathering its coldest March in at least 17 years, and frozen soil persists in east-central Iowa and southwestern Wisconsin.
The U.S. Drought Monitor’s weekly report said Thursday that roughly half of the continental U.S. remains in some form of drought, with the most pronounced dryness lingering in the key Midwestern farm states.