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Planting Intentions: Will Farmers Stick to Same Rotation as 2017?

Mary Kennedy
By  Mary Kennedy , DTN Basis Analyst
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While Texas has been busy planting corn and sorghum, the Upper Midwest was recently hit by another winter snow, further delaying spring planting. (Photo courtesy Texas Farm Bureau)

As the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) March 31 Prospective Planting report nears, speculation abounds over what farmers intend to plant this spring.

The annual report is based on a survey the USDA conducts with farmers around the country as to what crops they intend to plant, and how many acres of each crop they will plant. In anticipation of the upcoming report, I reached out to farmers and elevator managers and asked them what their intentions are and what changes would be made compared to 2017 planting.

An elevator manager in eastern North Dakota told me that spring wheat planting will be up 15%, soybeans beans will be up 10% and corn down 8%. Keith Brandt, general manager of Plains Grain and Agronomy, LLC, Enderlin, North Dakota, said he sees a similar pattern in his area.

"There will be a 10% decrease in corn acres, a 3%-to-5% increase in soybeans and an 8%-to-10% increase in spring wheat," said Brandt. "I don't see much field work until later in April. If some of that wheat seeding goes into May, we will lose wheat acres and increase bean acres. Also, there will be more dicamba-resistant beans planted this year in order to avoid vapor drift issues.

"We will see more conventional (non-GMO) corn planted this year because of seed cost. The savings on seed cost is about $60-to-$70 per bag, which equates to about $20-to-$25 per acre. Farmers have to be careful, because additional chemical cost for corn borer or some other insect, plus chemical cost for weed control, could push that back up to the same or more as GMO seed. If they have insect issues and field loss of corn, they won't save anything," Brandt said.

I asked Brandt what the reason was for the lower corn acres that I had been hearing about elsewhere and he said, "When corn harvest went until late November last year, many farmers thought that was too long and that is the main reason for cutting back, along with high input costs as well."

Jeff Kittell, merchandiser for Border Ag and Energy, Russell, North Dakota, pointed out that they are still experiencing snowstorms, "so it's hard to get real excited about spring work yet. With the moisture we are supposed to receive again over the weekend, we should be in good shape to get the crop started, as these last snowstorms have been rain and wet heavy snow.

"Our spring wheat acres will be about the same as last year and we expect soybean acres will increase along with canola. Corn acres will be down, and I have heard of guys getting out of corn completely for the year. We will also see some increased acres in specialty crops due to good contracts and insurance. We could see more oats if the farmer can get a contract. Oats worked out well for guys who planted them last year and they are a low input crop," concluded Kittell.

Tim Luken, manager Oahe Grain Farmers, Onida, South Dakota, told DTN that most of the farmers in his area are not going to change much as far as wheat acres go. "Spring wheat acres will be up a little due to more sunflowers that were planted after the winter wheat that failed in 2017 was sprayed out," said Luken. "I have heard talk of less corn acres being put in due to cost and a few more beans to replace corn acres.

"Conditions last fall were dry and wheat stubble was very short to catch any snow due to last summer’s drought," added Luken. "We did pick up some nice snow the past three weeks, and this past week it has started to melt. Our topsoil moisture will be 'so so' to get things started this spring, but subsoil will be short, and more will be needed down the road. This part of the country is always 30 days from a drought."

Danny Pinske, manager Pro-Ag Farmers' Cooperative, Hoffman, Minnesota, told DTN that he was hearing some talk of more wheat, but it is so small of an acreage in his area, he said it's not a big deal. "The general talk is more soybeans," said Pinske. "I think if we have a good, fairly early spring, corn will not drop much in acres. Some farmers are thinking more corn now as the market moves higher. Maybe in the end, not much will change from last year other than slightly lower corn acres. The frost is still quite deep here, which could delay early planting. It seems some farmers are going to be flexible in what they plant leaving 10%-to-15% open for either corn or soybeans."

Tim Dufault, who farms in Crookston, Minnesota, told DTN he will be planting more wheat and less soybeans than last year. "With average yields and current prices, wheat will project a $20 per acre profit and soybean projects a $19 per acre loss," said Dufault. "Corn acres look to be down in northwest Minnesota and northeast North Dakota this year. Average corn projections show a $60-to-$80 per acre loss. Too many growers feel it’s just too big of a gamble to hope that corn can be profitable on their farms.

"Right now spring planting looks like a long way off because all the fields are still covered with snow," added Dufault. "On top of that, there is snow and cool temperatures in the seven-day forecast. Our average first day of planting is April 20. We could still make that with above average temperatures and little precipitation. Soil moisture last fall was just on the dry side, but it's nothing that can’t be fixed with a good April shower."

I spoke to a few farmers from southern Minnesota recently at the Minnesota Grain and Feed Conference, and they told me they were sticking to their usual corn and soybean planting intentions. Of course, the recent snowfall over this past weekend will likely slow them down, along with the cool temperatures and more precipitation due in the next week, according to local weather reports. I also spoke to a famer in northern Illinois who told me that he intends to plant corn and soybeans again, similar to what he did last year.

A farmer in northeast Iowa told me that he was staying with corn and beans. "We are following our rotation, so no acre changes based on commodity prices. No fieldwork for us yet; fertilizer is on from last fall and we are ready to plant. We intend on starting around April 15 to April 20 with corn but have to see what weather does and allows us to do. We would like to capture higher bean yields as a result of earlier planting date; we’ve added another planter so we can have corn and beans going at same time. We are pushing all agronomic and management factors we can to drive productivity (yield) to help offset stagnant commodity prices, and we are investing in products and inputs with a proven performance record or things we have tested and used ourselves."

James Ramsey, who farms 3,500 acres of corn and soybeans in Shelbyville, Indiana, said, "We are planting our normal rotation of corn and soybeans. We increased wheat (winter) acres to 300 acres last fall and had planned on more but couldn't get it planted. We intend to start beans as soon as possible; hopefully March 30 or after, and we won't start corn until April 15 at the earliest. We may also try sunflowers again after wheat comes off, depending on weather."

Angie Setzer, Vice President of Grain at Citizens LLC, Charlotte, Michigan, told DTN that planting intentions in Michigan definitely depends on the area. "We had folks in Central Michigan that were able to work with very solid winter wheat planting conditions and went in that direction with a touch more acres than the year prior. However, as you got further south we saw more rain and less than ideal conditions cutting into acres there.

"From an overall standpoint when it comes to spring plantings, most of my customers plan to keep relatively close to their rotations. What was corn last year will likely be beans this year. For every grower that has told me they intend to increase bean acres, I have another grower looking at planting more corn. In the end, I imagine we'll see acreage in the state stay relatively close to last year, with Mother Nature being the final determinant."

As far as timing of planting, Setzer noted that temperatures in Michigan have been cool, but it has been relatively dry. "We have folks starting fertilizer application on their wheat, and as long as the weather pattern doesn't radically change, our agronomic team figures they'll be in the field starting spring prep work by the first week of April," said Setzer. "We'd love warmer temps of course, but we don't expect corn and beans planting to get rolling until the first part of May. From what I've heard, guys are starting to put sugar beets in in a few select locations."

Todd LaPlant, elevator manager at EGT LLC, Kintyre Flats, Montana told DTN his area is expecting spring wheat acres to be up 15% over last year, with less pulse crops, canola and durum being seeded. "Spring wheat is competitive with pulse prices and a better price than durum for new-crop. We are three to four weeks out from planting due to how cold March has been; we still have about a foot of snow. We are slowly recovering from the drought last year, but the snow should melt and go right in the ground since it's still powder dry underneath."

What about Durum and Pulse Acres in the U.S. and Canada?

I spoke with a durum buyer in the U.S. and he told me he expects durum acres to be down 10%-to-15% in west central North Dakota along with fewer peas, because there is no decent new-crop bids for them.

"In northwest North Dakota, durum acres could be unchanged to maybe down 5%-to-10%," he said. "If we lose acres there, it will likely go to spring wheat, but the loss in pea acres in that area will help us not go backwards as much on durum. In Montana, I feel these acres are up 10%-to-15% with less options on winter wheat planted and peas. Spring wheat will be up there as well."

Cliff Jamieson, DTN Canadian Grains Analyst said that, "Early indications suggest that Canadian prairie producers will seed more acres to durum, despite a lack of favorable price signals. While official Statistics Canada acreage estimates based on producer surveys will be released on April 27, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) has released early estimates that suggest producers will seed 5% more acres at close to 5.5 million acres, while some private estimates have suggested acres could increase even more." Jamieson noted that yields are forecast to recover from last year’s drought-reduced levels.

"Spot prices for 1 CWAD 13% protein reported by on Friday were reported at roughly $263/metric tons (mt) or $7.16/bushel (bu) across Southern Saskatchewan, while this same area shows new-crop September/October bids in the $6.70-to-$6.90/bu range," said Jamieson. "The International Grains Council reports asking prices for durum FOB the St. Lawrence at $285/mt USD as of March 21, which has remained steady since January. Early new-crop indications from AAFC show the range of expected producer returns (Canadian dollars) for the 2018-19 crop year falling by $10/mt from the current crop year to $245/mt-to-$275/mt ($6.67/bu to $7.48/bu).

"One of the factors causing uncertainty in durum markets is the implementation of country of origin labeling requirements in Italy, a market that typically absorbs up to 25% of Canadian durum exports. Current estimates from AAFC suggest global production will increase by 500,000 mt in 2018-19, although the upcoming European harvests will be watched closely.

"Perhaps one of the largest drivers behind higher acres on the prairies is a switch away from pulse crops on the prairies. The reason for that is the prospect of a record crop to be produced in India and a number of initiatives within that country to promote self-sufficiency, including steep import tariffs, which has sharply curbed Canada’s export potential," concluded Jamieson."

John Steinbeck's quote "The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry," could very well come true this spring if the weather doesn't shape up; especially in the Upper Midwest. Many famers may see their planting intentions on hold until Mother Nature decides to play nice.

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