The 1995 Freedom to Farm Act gave producers the option to plant what they believed to be their most competitive crops and still participate in the farm program. That choice tenet still underlies today's farm bill legislation and when comparing the five year period just before its enactment to the last five years, University of Illinois Farm Management Specialist Gary Schnitkey says there are clear cut winners and losers in terms of crops and acreage.
"What we saw is a movement toward soybeans and corn," Schnitkey said. "Soybeans gained 14 million acres from the early period to 2005 to 2009 and corn gained nine million. So those two crops were the only ones that gained in acres; hay and rice were stable but the big losers were wheat, barley and grain sorghum."
Corn silage, cotton, peanuts, dry edible beans and potatoes also lost acreage.
To evaluate acreage changes data detailing acres harvested in the United States by year were obtained from the National Agricultural Statistical Service. Data was collected for all crops with over one million acres harvested in 2008. There were thirteen of them: soybeans, corn for grain, hay, rice, wheat, barley, grain sorghum, corn for silage, cotton, peanuts, dry edible beans, potatoes and sugarbeets. Acres harvested were averaged for the years 1990 through 1994, the years preceding the passage of the 1995 Farm Bill, and 2005 through 2009.
Between the early 1990s and late 2000s soybeans were the crop with the largest acreage increase. It averaged 58.2 million acres harvested in the early 90s, increasing to 72.2 million acres in the late 2000s. That's about 25%. As Schnitkey mentioned, corn also had a sizable increase of 9.4 million acres, a 14% increase from one period to the other. Wheat had the largest reduction from 62.8 million acres to 50.7 million acres, down 19%.
Schnitkey says the data shows the largest increases in corn and soybean acreage were concentrated in the Great Plains and the greater Corn Belt.
"The state that gained the most in corn and soybean acres was North Dakota, gaining 4 million acres," Schnitkey said. "Other big gainers were Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas."