MANKATO — 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 report, coupled with hopes of a relaxing of drought conditions in much of the Corn Belt, had corn prices tumbling 40 cents a bushel, the maximum they can fall in a single day.
“Locally today, after the report was released, the markets closed with corn down to $5 a bushel for new crop price,” said Kent Thiesse, agriculture analyst and vice president at MinnStar Bank in Lake Crystal.
He said corn at or below $5 will make profitability tough for many farmers. “Most farmers are at that $4.50 to $5 (per bushel) range for input costs, land costs machinery. So that’s getting to the break even point.”
The overall American 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.
The USDA report addressed other crops, too, including soybeans. Farmers plan to plant 77.1 million acres — a small decline from 2012’s 77.2 million acres but still the fourth highest on record.
Compared with last year, soybean acreage intentions are down across all of the Great Plains, with the exception of North Dakota, as drought conditions have persisted. However, increases in planted area across most of the eastern Corn Belt and parts of the Southeast nearly balance out the plains’ declines.
If the estimates come to fruition, the planted soybean areas in New York, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania will be the largest on record. Iowa soybean acres are expected to rise 1 percent to 9.4 million acres, while Illinois is up 4 percent to 9.4 million. Nebraska is expected to see soybeans acres fall about 6 percent to 4.7 million.
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 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.