Farm Progress

Iowa farmers plan to plant 13.3 million acres of corn this spring, unchanged from 2017.

April 2, 2018

3 Min Read
PLANTING: Iowa farmers plan to plant 9.8 million acres to soybeans this year, a 200,000-acre decrease from 2017.

Corn has been dethroned as king in the U.S. this spring, as more soybean acres are planned to be planted than corn for the first time in 35 years. In Iowa, however, corn is still the top crop.

USDA’s Prospective Plantings report, released March 29, says Iowa farmers intend to plant 13.3 million acres of corn for all purposes in 2018, the same planted acreage as in 2017. Iowa farmers plan to plant 9.8 million soybean acres, a decline of 200,000 acres from last year.

The report is an estimate by USDA based on surveys of farmers in early March, and actual acreage planted will likely change depending on weather and crop prices at planting time.

U.S. corn acres projected down 2%
Looking at the national picture for 2018, corn acres are projected by USDA to be 2% lower (about 2 million acres less) than last year. Soybean acres nationally are down 1%, about 1 million acres. Some of the land that was planted to either corn or beans last year will be planted to wheat this year, as U.S. wheat acreage is projected to rise by 3%. Cotton is projected to be up 7% this year, an increase of 858,000 acres.

Soybeans are projected to be the nation’s most planted crop for the second time ever. However, total soybean and corn acres are considerably less than expected, say market analysts. Historically, soybeans have been the acreage underdog to corn.

Until this year, the only time soybean acres have been more than corn acres nationally was 1983. That was due to USDA’s Payment-In-Kind program in 1983, which compensated farmers for not growing certain crops, such as corn. Soybeans weren’t included in the PIK program, so farmers planted more beans and less corn that year.

Profitability behind more beans
Citing current conditions, “corn costs more to grow than soybeans,” says Chad Hart, Iowa State University Extension grain marketing economist. “With corn, you need to spend money for pest and disease control and more money for fertilizer. When the profitability of both crops is close like it is today, farmers bet on soybeans for a better return per acre.”


Profitability is the main reason farmers say they intend to plant 89 million acres to soybeans and 88 million acres to corn in the U.S. in 2018.

More farmers are saying they’ve looked at their results over the past few years and beans have performed better than corn in terms of profit per acre. “When farmers are feeling a little pinched, they tend to control the cost side of the equation and that’s where beans have the advantage over corn,” Hart says. “Soybeans cost less to grow than corn. Beans cost only about 60% to 70% as much as corn to grow.”

Narrow profitability explains why total acreage planted for all major U.S. crops will fall by about 1 million acres this year. Hart says much of this land will likely be removed from production and used for pasture or remain unplanted.

Other crops planted
Iowa farmers intend to plant 140,000 acres of oats for all purposes, up 25,000 acres from last year, USDA says. If realized, this would be the largest planted acreage for oats in Iowa since 2014. Iowa farmers expect to harvest 1.10 million acres of all dry hay for the 2018 crop year. This is 20,000 acres more than harvested in 2017. Planted acres of winter wheat, at 20,000 acres, is up 4,000 acres from last year.

The Prospective Plantings report provides the first official, survey-based estimates of U.S. farmers’ 2018 planting intentions. USDA’s acreage estimates are based on surveys conducted during the first two weeks of March from a sample of about 82,900 farm operators across the U.S., with more than 2,900 from Iowa.

Actual plantings will depend on weather, economic conditions, and availability of production inputs at the time farmers make their final planting decisions.

Based on last year’s USDA crop size estimates, Iowa is the top corn-producing state, followed by Illinois, Nebraska and Minnesota. Top soybean states are Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and North Dakota.



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