Missouri crop projections surprise economists

Thursday, April 2, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Missouri farmers are expected to lead the nation with the highest percentage of increase in corn planted during 2009, according to Tuesday’s Prospective Plantings report released by the United States Department of Agriculture.

The expected 3.05 million acres is 9 percent higher than last year’s 2.8 million acres. The USDA projects a nationwide total of 85 million acres, which is down 1 percent from 2008.

USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service provides these projections after surveying an approximate sample size of 86,000 farm operators by mail, Internet, phone and personal interviews.

Gary Marshall, chief executive officer of the Missouri Corn Growers Association, said this small change might benefit consumers by creating less reason for a volatile market.

“You’re winning because prices aren’t going to go up nearly as much as they did last year,” he said.

Agricultural economist Melvin Brees said many experts were expecting to see more of a decrease in nationwide corn planting.

Brees, who analyzes economic data for the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute, said some economists were surprised by the annual government report.

Earlier reports from trade experts estimated 2009 corn planting to range widely from 81.4 million to 89 million acres. Brees said the low-end estimates were based on rising input costs needed in corn production, such as fertilizer and fuel. In the pre-reports the lower corn estimates contributed to higher soybean acre estimates.

Instead, the USDA report projected Missouri soybean planting to decrease by 150,000 acres to total 5.05 million acres this year. The report lists Missouri and South Dakota with the largest decreases in soybean plantings nationwide.

Adam Buckallew, spokesman for the Missouri Soybean Association, said the state’s projected decrease this year is a result of 2008 being “a pretty big year for soybeans.”

He said this was mostly based on increased demand for soybeans, and some farmers who couldn't plant corn in wet fields last spring ended up planting soybeans instead. With heavy spring rains, soybeans can be planted later in the season and still reach maturity prior to winter frost, while corn requires earlier planting.

Even with unpredictable weather, Buckallew still said he anticipates another “healthy” year as the state’s soybean producers are expected to exceed the 2007 growing season.

On a national level, soybean acres are projected to reach 76 million acres. While this is a slight increase from the 75.7 million acres in 2008, the USDA projection ranks at the low end of the earlier estimates, which were 75.9 to 81.5 million acres.  Earlier soybean reports were higher because they were based on lower corn projections, Brees said.

With weather and market prices, actual plantings may shift from these projected figures.

Buckallew applauded farmers for staying in tune with the market changes.

“Farmers do a really good job gauging the market,” he said. “If there are more beans needed, generally they’ll get planted.”

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