USDA forecasts record soybean acreage

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planting soybeans
(Farm and Dairy file photo)

Farmers are expecting to plant a record 91 million acres of soybeans this year in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s March 31 Prospective Plantings report. If the numbers are realized, this would only be the third time soybean acreage is higher than corn acreage in the U.S.

The report comes in the middle of a tumultuous time for farmers, and the world. Even last fall, ag retailers were warning about herbicide and fertilizer shortages. Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, global markets have seen more turmoil, with fertilizer, energy and grain prices affected.

“Volatility will be the name of the game this summer,” said John Motter, a Hancock County grain farmer and member of the Ohio Soybean Council’s board of trustees.

Details

The estimated soybean acreage would be up 4% from 2021. Farmers are planning to plant about 89.5 million acres of corn, down from 2021 by 4%. While corn acres are down, soybean acres are up.

“We can see where the acres mostly went,” said Lance Honig, chief of the crops branch at the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, in a March 31 briefing. Wheat acreage is up by 1%, at 47.4 million acres expected.

Ohio is among the states expecting to plant a record number of soybean acres, at 5.1 million acres, up by 4% from 2021, in line with the national expectations. Pennsylvania dropped by 3% in soybean acreage, to 560,000 acres.

Both states dropped in expected corn acreage, Ohio by 6% to 3.35 million acres, and Pennsylvania by 8% to 1.23 million acres.

Overall, farmers are expecting to plant about 317 million acres of principal crops across the U.S., which is in line with recent years, said Honig.

Acreage

Motter said the USDA’s soybean acreage number seems high, noting it is above the numbers market analysts have been estimating. He added while high nitrogen costs may have made soybeans look more attractive for some farmers, prices for corn have also gone up, since Russia invaded Ukraine.

“I guess that’s where I am surprised by a higher soybean number in the first week of April from USDA,” he said.

For Motter, though, the report doesn’t change anything — he already has his seeds, fertilizers and other chemicals and his plan for planting this spring. He’s also seen local fall prices for corn increase from about $5.50 per bushel to $6.50 since early January.

Still, in addition to input costs, demand for protein is rising each year, and with that, soybean demand goes up, which could be partly influencing the increased soybean acreage, he said.

“The world’s hungry,” Motter said.

Ben Klick, of Windy Way Farms, in Stark County, noted there’s also plenty of other factors that go into decisions about what to plant. For example, close to half of the corn he grows goes to feed cattle at the farm, so he always needs a certain number of acres of corn, regardless of what the markets are doing. Crop rotations are another consideration.

“If you’re in a good standard rotation, I don’t think guys are going to be as apt to change,” Klick said. “We try to be vigilant, and up-front buy things we know are kind of volatile.”

Looking ahead

Warning signs from friends and suppliers helped Klick and many other farmers figure out what inputs they needed to buy earlier for this spring. Because of that earlier preparation, Klick said, the numbers look good on both corn and soybeans for his farm.

“Next year is what I’m worried about,” he added.

Input costs started to arise as a concern for this spring before the last harvest season. It’s hard to know how long the trend of volatile markets and higher input costs will continue — or what will happen next for commodity prices.

Herbicides

While herbicides were not necessarily affected by the conflict in eastern Europe the same way as fertilizer and energy, herbicide costs have been a concern for farmers and ag retailers since last fall. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced March 29 it would expand use of two herbicides, Enlist One and Enlist Duo, to another 134 counties, including several in Ohio.

These herbicides are used in conventional and genetically modified corn, soybeans and cotton.

Earlier this year, in January, the EPA prohibited their use in more than 200 counties. Groups including the Ohio Soybean Association, Ohio Farm Bureau and Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers sent a letter to the EPA, asking it to remove the county-level Endangered Species Act prohibitions on the herbicides for 2022.

In a March 29 Ohio Soybean Association press release, Patrick Knouff, Shelby County farmer and president of the Ohio Soybean Association, said many farmers in the restricted counties had already bought Enlist products and seeds before the decision was made in January, and would have had a hard time finding new products and seeds that close to planting.

 “This is a big win for farmers in Ohio, and across the United States,” he said.

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