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Texas Farm Bureau speaks out against Trans-Texas Corridor

While many strides were made in the previous legislative session in regards to Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC), farmers and ranchers feel there are still concerns to address, a Texas Farm Bureau representative told state senators in a transportation committee meeting recently.

“We believe the impact of the TTC will be devastating to the agriculture industry and to rural communities,” McLennan County Farm Bureau President Marc Scott said at the Austin hearing.

The lack of access due to the division of family farms and ranches, the massive condemnation proceedings that would trail in the wake of corridor approval and the usage of regional water resources for the construction were all among concerns Scott raised before the committee.

“As a personal note, the 1,700 acres that I produce on are all within the footprint of the proposed TTC,” Scott, a cow/calf and hay producer, said. “So this issue is very near and dear to my heart. My livelihood depends on the outcome of the TTC.”

Scott said Texas Farm Bureau is urging lawmakers to use existing rights-of-way whenever new road or highway construction is under consideration, provide access points for landowners divided by roadways and ensure FM roads would not be spliced by highways.

The state’s largest family farm organization is also pressing state reforms on eminent domain law, urging lawmakers to consider relocation costs for families affected by something as large as the corridor, as well as good faith offers on the land’s best and highest use whenever condemnation proceedings take place.

Scott said farmers and ranchers whose land is targeted by the proposed TTC feel strongly that many landowner concerns have not been adequately addressed.

“The delegate body of the Texas Farm Bureau has voted overwhelming to continue to oppose the TTC,” Scott said. “Our county leaders have spent four years studying this project and attending public meetings held in counties throughout the state. While we readily admit that many changes have occurred to lessen the sting of the corridor, there are still more issues that need to be resolved.”

Pecan growers can get casebearer pest prediction at upgraded Web site

A real-time prediction map for the pecan nut pest called the casebearer is now available at a newly upgraded Web site.

Dr. Marvin Harris, professor of entomology at the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, and Bill Ree, Texas Cooperative Extension program specialist, were co-developers of the program, which can be found at http://pecankernel.tamu.edu/ .

The prediction map was launched in 2006 and will be continued this year, Harris said.

"The real-time predictions rely on a large number of Texas Pecan Growers Association member/cooperators and non-traditional cooperators that include Master Gardeners in Texas," he said.

Many cooperators work with Extension agents and the Texas A&M University System regional research and Extension centers across the state.

The cooperators gather data -- often daily -- from pecan nut casebearer pheromone traps from April through June and send it by e-mail to Harris or Ree, who analyze, consolidate and map the information for posting on the Web site, Harris said.

"The real-time map estimates the ‘decision date' when producers will need to inspect their pecans for eggs, larvae and nut entry and decide whether or not they will need an insecticide treatment to protect the crop," he said.

The decision date is determined by the male pecan nut casebearer moths' first appearance in the traps at each cooperator's site.

The decision map on the Web site allows producers to see what is happening across the state and decide whether and when to treat, Ree said.

This pest can ruin an entire crop in some years and cause little damage in others, so vigilance is needed, he said.

The pest was very early in most areas in 2006 and severe in some areas. Producers who consulted this map avoided being blind-sided by the unusually early onset of this pest in 2006, he said.

"We don't know yet what the situation will be in 2007, but we will be watching and quickly reporting what we find via the Web site," Ree said.

Further information on the prediction map is available from http://agnews.tamu.edu/dailynews/stories/ENTO/May1106a.htm.

Chance of major farm bill changes not very likely

Joe Outlaw, a Texas A&M University economist who has analyzed farm policy for two decades, says modestly that only an “idiot” would make predictions about the future farm bill, so it might as well be him. Outlaw, who was the featured speaker during a recent series of 2007 Ag Forecast breakfasts held throughout Georgia, doesn’t expect many changes in the upcoming legislation.

His assessment should be sweet music to the ears of farmers throughout the Southeast. USDA Secretary Mike Johann’s “listening sessions” of this past year, with their theme of WTO compliance, left many growers understandably uneasy about future prospects.

The Bush Administration’s farm bill proposal was predicted to be “dead on arrival,” says Outlaw, because there were earlier threats about how far it might go. “But most elected officials have said there are parts of the proposal they like, so they won’t dismiss it out of hand. In total, it’ll never happen.”

There’s one thing, he says, that’ll shape a new farm bill more than anything else, and that’s the budget baseline. “We’re not making payments, and we’re not expected to make payments under current policy, which is what sets the budget baseline. How do you change policy with less money in payments? It’s hard to do. There just won’t be much in the baseline to craft the new policy — that’s really the story.”

Essentially, says Outlaw, you only get to spend what current policy would have spent. There may be a couple of ways around it, but that basically is how it works, he says.

Turning to international trade issues, he says it always has been fashionable in Washington, D.C., circles to be pro-trade. “Every president since the beginning of time has been pro-trade, and at this point in time, there are more non-agricultural reasons to get a trade agreement. There is a lot of pressure on the president from the business and financial sectors to get a trade agreement. Brazil is complaining that we haven’t fully complied with our loss in the WTO cotton case, and honestly, we haven’t fully complied,” says Outlaw.

The U.S. agricultural community really likes LDP’s, he says, but they’re first on the list of things that the rest of the world would like to see us eliminate. “We’re trying to get everything in the ‘green box,’ so that we’ll be WTO compliant. There are some interesting ideas in the administration’s proposal, and most of them have to do with the United States more fully complying with its trade agreements.”

The Bush plan proposes revising marketing loan rates based on five-year market average prices, says Outlaw. “That would lower loan rates for a number of commodities, making us pay less in LDP’s, which in turn makes it less trade distorting. On the other side, it increases direct payments, and the rest of the world really loves that,” he says.

The administration’s proposal also would streamline conservation items and put more money into the Conservation Security Program, something that definitely will happen, he says. “I also fully expect that planting restrictions on fruits and vegetables will be eliminated, and I’ve expected that since the cotton case.”

A lot of people — including environmental groups — will be jockeying for a place at the table when the farm bill is hammered out, he says.

It’s still a bit early to tell with any degree of certainty how the new legislation will turn out, but Outlaw thinks there’s probably less than a 25-percent chance that lawmakers will change the basic structure of the current farm bill, including loan rates, LDP’s and direct payments.

“I can say that pretty boldly. I do believe we’ll have something very similar to what we now have. And if we have less money, it’ll be even harder to make changes. The leadership is comfortable with the current structure, and the people who actually care about agriculture don’t want to change the program very much,” says Outlaw.

e-mail: phollis@farmpress.com

'Taxpayer' group's rhetoric inflaming anti-farmer sentiment

U.S. farmers receive most of their income from the markets, and Congress should eliminate farm subsidies by establishing a low baseline in the Budget Resolution for the Commodity Credit Corp.

The only problem with this claim — by the president of Taxpayers for Common Sense Action, a Washington-based “non-partisan, budget watchdog” — is that someone forgot to tell the markets.

Cotton and rice are currently selling at below the cost of production. Corn, soybean and wheat prices are relatively high, but anyone who has had to make their living from the “markets” knows those could turn around the first time crude oil prices drop below $40 a barrel.

The Taxpayers for Common Sense Action fail to mention those inconvenient truths in the letter they sent members of the Senate Committee on the Budget before it voted to create a “Deficit-Neutral Reserve Fund for the Farm Bill” of up to $15 billion in additional baseline funding for the 2007 farm bill.

The fly in the ointment Senate Budget Committee Kent Conrad attempted to apply to the wounds to the farm bill baseline is the funding increase must be offset by cuts in other programs or increased taxes, a feat Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Tom Harkin says could be difficult in the current deficit environment.

Just how difficult is illustrated by the rhetoric of groups like Taxpayers for Common Sense Action or the Cato Institute’s Center for Trade Policy Studies, both of which argue against any increase in the baseline.

Prior to the Budget Committee vote, Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, and ranking member Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., asked for increased funding for mandatory spending programs such as farm income support, agricultural trade, conservation, nutrition and renewable energy.

Sources said Harkin and Chambliss requested a $20 billion increase, but Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, was barely able to add $15 billion to the $2.9 trillion Budget Resolution, which passed on a 12-11 party-line vote. The Senate was scheduled to vote on the plan March 20.

Taxpayers for Common Sense Action told Budget Committee members that they could “take an important first step toward meaningful reform of the current wasteful federal farm support program” by voting against any increases in the farm bill baseline.

“The farm bill includes a taxpayer-funded support program that rewards wealthy agribusinesses with out-dated Depression-era supports,” its letter said. “We urge you to heed Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns’ appreciation that markets can and do work for farmers, and we call on you to reduce agriculture subsidies and make the tough decisions necessary to put our budget back on track.”

Subsidies cost taxpayers billions of dollars annually, are inequitably distributed, and undermine international trade relationships, it said. “Since 1995, more than $165 billion has been funneled to this country’s largest landowners and biggest agriculture producers, with annual costs to taxpayers exceeding $20 billion in many years.”

Those numbers have just enough truth in them to make farmers cringe and give taxpayers pause.

e-mail: flaws@farmpress.com

FAPRI analysts were concerned about cotton

Most agricultural economists expected U.S. farmers to plant more corn and less everything else this spring, but the scope of the change caught many analysts, including those at the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute, off guard.

FAPRI analysts had predicted U.S. cotton producers would plant 13.4 million acres in 2007, 12.2 percent less than in 2006, but even that number was eclipsed by USDA’s forecast that U.S. cotton plantings could drop to 12.1 million acres or 20 percent below 2006. Three weeks before the release of the March 30 Planting Intentions report FAPRI economists said the acreage and price forecasts generated by its economic models may have been overtaken by events.

“Based on January information, we had projected smaller shifts,” said Pat Westhoff, the analyst who oversees the preparation of the agricultural economic baseline by the FAPRI centers at the University of Missouri-Columbia and Iowa State University, Ames. “There have been a number of pessimistic news items about cotton since then, so I am not surprised that the report suggests farmers intend to make larger shifts in acreage out of cotton and into corn than we had projected. Still, I was not expecting the cotton and soybean numbers to be quite this low or the corn number to be quite this high.

“As always, it is important to remember that this report is not the final say on 2007 acreage. Weather conditions this spring and market reactions to the report and other news will mean that actual plantings will certainly differ from this report of farmers’ intentions.”

While FAPRI said cotton plantings would certainly drop by 12 percent or more, it said soybeans would feel the rise in corn the most, falling to 70.5 million acres from 75.5 million acres in 2006. (USDA forecast 67.1 million acres of soybeans.) Wheat area increases to 60.1 million acres in 2007 but drops in following years to 57 million by 2016.

The baseline, prepared annually for Congress, is a collaborative effort of several institutions. Texas A&M, Texas Tech, the University of Arkansas and Arizona State also contribute.

FAPRI analysts say the current outlook depends on the price of corn not becoming too high, removing profits from ethanol plants. Baseline projections show ethanol production remains profitable, but increasing production and falling petroleum prices result in lower ethanol prices.

The baseline projects high crop prices will increase net income for grain farmers; however, higher feed costs cut profits of livestock feeders.

Overall, net farm income dropped $26 billion dollars in 2006 from a record high of $85 billion in 2004, with higher input costs largely responsible. Net farm income could rise $7 billion in 2007 to $66 billion and could remain above $60 billion in later years.

Cash receipts for cattle and calves reached a record $50.7 billion in 2006, but are expected to decline to $47.9 billion by 2010.

“As more expensive corn increased the cost of feeding cattle, feedlots bid down feeder cattle prices,” said Scott Brown, MU FAPRI livestock analyst. “This trend continues through the baseline, as feed costs remain high.”

Poultry producers reacted quickly to higher feed costs, reducing production in the third quarter of 2006. “Slowing growth in poultry is a rarity,” Brown said. “Broiler production is expected to grow only 1.6 percent annually through the baseline, compared with 3 percent annual growth for the previous 10 years.

Three years of profits for hog producers will end in 2007, according to the baseline. The price of producing pork is expected to go up 6 cents a pound, or 16 percent.

Food cost increases remain moderate in spite of higher grain prices. Annual growth in the food Consumer Price Index will average near 2 percent long term, near the general inflation rate, Brown said.

While grain prices play a part in food cost increases, 80 percent of consumer food costs come from other factors, including labor, fuel and packaging.

Fruit and vegetable costs spiked in 2006 and are expected to continue high, given weather-related losses.

Cost of food eaten away from home outpaced home meals in 2005. This trend is expected to continue.

Federal spending for farm programs is lowered by higher grain prices. Direct payments, counter-cyclical payments and marketing loans peaked at $16 billion in the 2005 crop year. Those same payments total $7.7 billion for the current marketing year. Payments are expected to drop to $6.7 billion by the end of the baseline in 2016, with direct payments accounting for $5.3 billion.

The baseline, which will be used to analyze the 2007 farm bill, has been given to the Senate and House agricultural committees and USDA.

e-mail: flaws@farmpress.com

Early drought threatens Alabama corn

Never in the course of his Extension career — first as a grains agronomist, later as an administrator — has Paul Mask seen anything to compare with the unseasonably dry and warm spring that has descended on Alabama.

But as a seasoned agronomist who once specialized in corn and other grain crops, Mask isn’t ready to panic — yet — despite the rising apprehension among many Alabama farmers whose fervent hopes are riding on corn this year.

For now, at least, the bone-dry conditions in many Alabama fields are not causing grave harm to planted seed, he says. Granted, there may be some minimal loss of seed quality, coupled with some damage from birds and insects, but that’s not what concerns Mask.

What really concerns him — and many farmers — is the time factor.

“You really want to get corn off and growing pretty quickly,” Mask says, adding that this is why farmers plant corn early — “anything to get silking and tassling well under way before the usual stretch of dry weather arrives in the summer.”

On the other hand, if growth is stalled, corn becomes far more vulnerable to the effects of dry weather — precisely the factor associated with this persistently dry spring that worries him.

Even so, Mask, the product of a farming background, learned long ago to remain doggedly optimistic.

“In a week or so, we can get some rain, but who really knows?”

It’s precisely this uncertainty that is keeping a growing number of farmers up every night, especially those in north Alabama, who decided months ago to abandon some or all of their cotton acreage to capitalize on the growing demand for corn. For some, it was the first time in more than a generation that they had considered planting corn.

Heath Potter, an Extension agent in northwest Alabama, says he’s already talked to one farmer whose enthusiasm for corn has turned as dry as the weather.

“He said that if he didn’t get any rain by last Wednesday, he was turning in every bag of corn he had intended to plant.”

He is not alone, Potter says. Because of the unusually dry growing conditions, he says farmers are “starting out this year the way we finished last year’s growing season — discouraged.”

Anticipating a fever-pitch interest in corn earlier this year, Potter had planted demonstration plots, hoping to hold a series of grower meetings and field tours in the summer. But as he has learned through experience, farmers, “just don’t like socializing with other farmers during bad crop years.” And this year very well could turn out to be one of the worst, he fears.

“The moral is low. Spring typically is the season of growth and optimism for growers. But from my own experience, I’m sitting here and can’t even remember the last time it’s rained at my house — so in circumstances like that, it’s hard to remain optimistic.”

This holds doubly true for growers who “already have contracted a lot of corn,” Potter says.

In neighboring Franklin County, Extension Coordinator Tim Reed is aware of 11 growers in his county and adjoining Lawrence County who already have booked (contracted to grow) roughly a half million bushels of corn, anticipating an especially good year for the crop.

“They had to book it because prices are so good,” Reed says. “But if they’ve booked the corn for $4 a bushel and can’t make the crop, they’re going to have to make up the difference.”

One option for growers who have not made prior commitments is to switch to some other crop, such as cotton, which can still be planted later in the growing season. But, again, this boils down to weather. If the rains don’t eventually come, farmers will be caught in the same fix.

“Yes, there’s an opportunity to jump into some other crop, but as one farmer told me recently, that just means you face the risk of losing more than one crop in a year,” says Dale Monks, an Extension agronomist, who adds that concerns about dry growing conditions are emerging throughout the state.

“What’s happening in north Alabama pretty much is starting to occur in much of the rest of the state,” says Monks, who is especially concerned with the loss of soil moisture.

“Soil moisture is leaving and we didn’t really have good moisture over the winter to start with.”

Meanwhile, in west central Alabama, Regional Agent Leonard Kuykendall is advising growers to think in terms of crop diversity.

“I’m advising them to spread their risk by planting corn and early-season soybeans,” Kuykendall say, “because early beans can wait on rain better than corn.

“If you get some July rains, you can still get soybeans.”

But the operative word here is “if.”

As any Extension professional will readily attest, the eternal uncertainty associated with fickle nature is one of the great ironies associated with their profession.

“It’s one of the things my old boss and my Dad (a retired Extension agent) told me when I first hired on with Extension,” Potter recalls.

“You can do everything in the world to educate farmers about how to make the right decisions. But in the end, they have to count on the sun and rain to do the work.”

USDA projects largest corn planting in 63 years

U.S. corn producers are expected to plant 90.5 million acres of corn this spring — the highest acreage planted in 63 years. According to USDA’s March 30 Prospective Plantings report, released this morning, the increases are coming at the expense of cotton and soybean acres, down 20 percent and 11 percent, respectively.

According to the report, from surveys taken during the first two weeks of March, corn acres would be at the highest level since 1944, when 95.5 million acres were planted. Expected acreage is up in nearly all states due to high corn prices.

Illinois farmers intend to plant a record high 12.9 million acres of corn this spring, up 1.6 million acres from last year. North Dakota and Minnesota growers also expect to plant record high corn acres, up 910,000 and 600,000 acres, respectively.

Cotton plantings for 2007 are expected to total 12.1 million acres, 20 percent below last year. Upland acreage is expected to total 11.9 million acres, down 21 percent from last year and the lowest since 1989. Growers intend to decrease planted area in all states with the largest acreage declines in Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Mississippi and Texas. American-Pima cotton growers intend to decrease their plantings by 10 percent from 2006, to 292,000 acres. California producers expect to plant 250,000 acres, down 9 percent from last year’s record high.

Soybean producers intend to plant 67.1 million acres in 2007, down 11 percent from last year. If realized, this will be the lowest planted area since 1996. Acreage decreases are expected in all growing areas, except in New York and the Southeast.

Large decreases in soybean acreage are expected across the Corn Belt, with the largest decline expected in Illinois, down 1.4 million acres from 2006. However, area planted to soybeans is expected to increase in the Southeast, with Georgia expecting the largest increase from last year at 95,000 acres. Planted acreage in New York is expected to be the largest on record at 210,000 acres.

All wheat planted area is estimated at 60.3 million acres, up 5 percent from 2006. The 2007 winter wheat planted area, at 44.5 million acres, is 10 percent above last year and up 1 percent from the previous estimate.

e-mail: erobinson@farmpress.com

Virginia joining forces against destructive bee disorder

In Virginia, beekeepers and officials with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) are fighting back against an unknown enemy that is causing the disappearance of colonies of the state’s honey bees.

The phenomenon is called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and it is characterized by a bee colony in which the honey is still intact but the bees are no longer present.

“We are encouraging beekeepers to become more active in caring for their hives to combat the possibility of CCD. Long-term, we suggest that beekeepers incorporate an integrated pest management approach into their plans. They should supplement the honey supply and replace the queen more often to be sure the hive is vigorous and productive. A number of resistant lines of bees is available to help prevent problems from diseases and pests. Overall, they need to use multiple strategies to overcome the current challenges,” said State Apiarist Keith Tignor.

“At VDACS, we are working with several groups to identify the causes of CCD and determine the most effective ways to fight its effects.”

Tignor continued, “We have been losing significant numbers of honey bees since the introduction of the Varroa mite into Virginia in 1990.” Varroa mites are parasites that attack both adult and immature honey bees. Left untreated, these mites will destroy honey bee colonies. “The difference is that with Varroa mites dead bees are found in the hive.

“With CCD, no bees remain. The disorder is occurring in hives that are stressed from changes in temperatures, movement for pollination, or limited sources of nectar. We are trying to determine if the current situation is the result of a more substantial infestation of mites or other factors, such as climate conditions or bacteria that could play a significant role as well.”

Why all the anxiety and effort about honey bees? Experts estimate that across the U. S., honey bees help pollinate more than 80 crops with an economic value of approximately $20 billion. The list includes Virginia favorites such as apples, peaches, blueberries, strawberries, melons, squash and cucumbers. Honey bees are an excellent choice as pollinators because they are manageable, moveable, and won’t harm the plants.

On average a single hive containing 40,000 to 60,000 bees is able to pollinate two acres of a crop. Without a sufficient numbers of bees, farmers may face crops that are inadequately pollinated, resulting in decreased production and reduced quality. Honey bees are also beneficial as stewards of the environment. A honey bee may fly up to 2 miles from its hive collecting nectar and pollen. They are general pollinators visiting wild flowers, trees, and other plants in bloom in farmlands, pastures, forests, and wetlands. Pollination by honey bees helps to ensure healthy and diverse plant life throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia.

In 1985, Virginia counted 98,000 hives statewide. Today the number is down to approximately 25,000 hives. Recent losses have averaged about 30 percent per year. Because of drought conditions, hives went into winter 2006 with reduced honey supplies, very little brood, and high mite levels. The resulting losses of up to 40 percent have increased concerns about the serious effects of CCD.

In addition to the diminishing number of hives, the number of beekeepers in Virginia is also shrinking, now down by one-third. Currently Virginia beekeepers total approximately 2,000. Fewer than 50 of these beekeepers manage bees commercially for honey production and pollination.

VDACS’ Office of Plant and Pest Services has developed one way to assist Virginia fruit and vegetable growers who are having difficulty locating adequate sources of bee colonies. “Virginia Pollinator” is a Web-based resource designed to connect beekeepers who have honey bees available for pollination rental with growers who need honey bees to pollinate their crops.

For additional information, call Keith Tignor at the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, 804.786.3515, or send an e-mail to keith.tignor@vdacs.virginia.gov.

University of Tennessee appoints new dean of agriculture

Caula A. Beyl has been named as dean of the University of Tennessee College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. Since January Beyl has been serving as Interim Dean of Graduate Studies for Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University.

Prior to then she was director of Alabama A&M’s Office of Institutional Planning, Research and Evaluation.

Beyl will be the first female dean of UT’s nearly century old college of agriculture. She is among a handful of female leaders of such land-grant colleges across the nation. Her appointment recognizes a shift from traditionally male-dominated programs to studies that are attracting nearly equal numbers of male and female students.

The UT College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources offers a variety of studies focused on food, fiber and natural resources systems. As dean, Beyl will oversee the college’s academic programs, which serve approximately 840 undergraduate and 225 graduate students.

The college’s various academic and co-curricular activities include numerous degree programs as well as commodity clubs and competition teams, professional and honor societies, and independent research and other creative endeavors.

Degrees are offered in programs related to agricultural economics, animal science, biosystems engineering and soil science, food science and technology, entomology and plant pathology, forestry, wildlife and fisheries, and plant sciences.

A professor of horticulture, Beyl has received numerous awards and recognitions for her teaching and research. She has also served in editorial and review capacities for a number of scholarly publications, including the Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science.

Beyl holds a Ph.D. in stress physiology and a master’s in horticulture from Purdue University. She earned her bachelor’s of science degree in biology from Florida Atlantic University.

Regarding her appointment, the new dean said, “Throughout the years, the UT College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources has been well known for its leadership and energetic faculty. I am thoroughly delighted to be welcomed into this outstanding family and to experience firsthand a true UT welcome.”

In an e-mail to faculty and staff, Joseph DiPietro, UT vice-president for agriculture, called the national search process rigorous, stating “it involved a thorough and thoughtful review of many qualified candidates.”

DiPietro also thanked the search committee and the faculty and staff who participated in the campus interviews and submitted candidate critiques.

“Your input was vital to the process and has resulted in a dynamic new leader for our academic programs,” he wrote.

Beyl, who plans to be on campus on June 1, is looking forward to an intense summer of orientation and preparations for the opening of the 2007 fall semester.

USDA Report: Corn Acreage to Top 90 Million

For charts and commentary on the USDA report, see Bryce Knorr's Morning Call and check back this afternoon for Arlan Suderman's Afternoon Recap.

Driven by growing ethanol demand, U.S. farmers intend to plant 15 percent more corn acres in 2007, according to the Prospective Plantings report released today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service. Producers plan to plant 90.5 million acres of corn, the largest area since 1944 and 12.1 million acres more than in 2006.

Expected corn acreage is up in nearly all states, due to favorable prices fueled by increased demand from ethanol producers as well as strong export sales. Illinois farmers intend to plant a record 12.9 million corn acres this spring, up 1.6 million acres — or 14.2 percent — from 2006. Record-high acreage is also expected in Minnesota, North Dakota, California and Idaho. Iowa continues to be the largest corn acreage state with 13.9 million acres, up 1.3 million acres — or 10.3 percent — from 2006.

The increase in intended corn acres is partially offset by a decrease in soybean acres in the Corn Belt and Great Plains, as well as fewer expected acres of cotton and rice in the Delta and Southeast. U.S. farmers plan to plant 67.1 million acres of soybeans, the lowest total since 1996 and a decrease of 8.4 million acres — or 11 percent — from 2006. Area planted to cotton is expected to total 12.1 million acres, down 20 percent from 2006.

Area intended for rice is estimated at 2.64 million acres, down 7 percent from 2006 and down 22 percent from 2005. If realized, this would be the lowest planted acreage since 1987. Expected acreage of long grain rice, which represents 76 percent of total rice acres, is down 8 percent from last year. Producers of long grain rice were affected by USDA's March 5 ban on the planting of Clearfield CL131 after unapproved genetic material was found in the seed stock.

All wheat planted area is expected to increase 5 percent from 2006, to 60.3 million acres. Winter wheat acreage is up 10 percent and durum wheat is up 6 percent, while other spring wheat is down 7 percent. Other crops with expected acreage increases are sorghum, up 9 percent, and canola, up 12 percent, and barley, up 7 percent from last year's record low.

The Prospective Plantings report provides the first official estimates of U.S. farmers' planting intentions for 2007. NASS's acreage estimates are based on surveys conducted during the first two weeks of March from a sample of more than 86,000 farm operators across the United States. Following USDA's March 5 ban on the planting of Clearfield CL131 rice seed, NASS attempted verify the planting intentions of producers who, prior to March 5, indicated their intent to plant long grain rice.

Prospective Plantings and all other NASS reports are available online at www.nass.usda.gov.

Source: National Agricultural Statistics Service