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Missouri farmers to increase soybean and wheat acreage

Monday, March 31, 2008 | 6:46 p.m. CDT; updated 11:07 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

KATIE MICIK

news@ColumbiaMissourian.com

COLUMBIA — Missouri farmers intend to plant the most acres of wheat and soybeans since the late 1990s, hoping to cash in on high commodity prices by using double cropping and planting land that was formerly protected under Conservation Reserve Program contracts.

Missouri farmers say they will plant 5.2 million acres of soybeans, a 13 percent increase from last year; 1.2 million acres of wheat, up 14 percent from last year; and 3.1 million acres of corn, a 10 percent decrease, according to a survey released Monday by the Missouri office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

“Missouri farmers intend to increase soybean production by returning many of last year’s corn acres back to soybeans, double cropping more wheat acres and planting on land available from CRP contracts that expired last year,” said Gene Danekas, director of the Missouri NASS office. “This is in response to sharply higher soybean and wheat prices. The costs associated with raising corn are also higher than for soybean.”

Last year, corn acreage was the highest since World War II, according to the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute, and this year’s decrease comes partially from crop rotation, a farming technique that alternates planting soybeans and corn to replenish nitrogen levels in the soil.

The prices for both wheat and soybeans are much higher than the historical average.

Soybeans were trading at $11.97 per bushel at the Monday close of the Chicago Board of Trade, a global commodities future exchange market. The price of soybeans is expected to remain high because of global demand for vegetable oils and the growing biodeisel industry, according to agricultural institute.

Wheat closed at $9.29. A drought in Australia destroyed the country’s wheat crop last year, and the shortage caused a temporary price increase.

Double cropping is a farming technique in which farmers plant wheat and soybeans in the same season. Wheat is a crop that’s planted in the fall and harvested in the spring, NASS agricultural statistician Tommy Salee said. Soybeans can be planted as late as early July. Double cropping allows farmers to reap the profits of two high-priced commodities.

Another way that farmers are increasing planted acreage is by farming land that wasn’t used for farming in previous years. This year, 150,000 acres in Missouri were released from Conservation Reserve Program contracts and are eligible for farming, said Gerald Hrdina, conservation reserve specialist for the Farm Services Agency.

In 2006, 20,000 acres were released from the program and in 2005, 51,000 acres were released,

Statewide, 1.5 million acres remain under conservation reserve contracts, Hrdina said. Under the 10- to 15-year contracts, farmers agree to take highly erodible or environmentally sensitive land out of crop production. In return, the government pays the farmer to not use the land.

Last year, 780,000 acres were set to expire, and most of it was re-enrolled.

“We had people who extended their contracts make the decision back in 2006 and had them extended before prices went through the ceiling,” Hrdina said. If the Conservation Reserve Program had waited until after the prices rose to re-enroll farmers, Hrdina said he thinks more people would have dropped out of the program.

Farmers are “free to do what they want” with the 150,000 acres released from the program, Hrdina said.

“When you have $12 soybeans, people think about returning the land to crop production,” he said.

Salee agreed and said some think they can make more from the commodities than the contract payments, even though yields tend to be lower because conservation reserve land isn’t the best farmland.

The purpose of the NASS intentions report is for farmers to use to adjust their planning, Salee said.

“If a farmer reads that soybean acreage is expected to go up, and he’s planning on growing beans, he begins to evaluate,” Salee said. “Does it make corn a better deal? And maybe they’ll switch, or maybe they think others will switch, so they’ll stick with beans. But it’s just a guessing game.”


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