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Acreage expected to shift to more corn next season: Many farmers still on the fence

Farmers are expected to plant more acres of corn and less acres of soybeans in 2019. Michelle Rook / Forum News Service

Farmers regionally and nationally are talking about planting more corn and fewer soybeans in 2019. This follows a year of disastrous soybean prices in 2018 due to the ongoing trade dispute with China and record soybean production in the United States, which led to record carryout of 955 million bushels.  

Early projections have ranged from 2 million to 7 million more acres of corn in 2019 and 2 million to 4 million fewer soybean acres. Informa’s December estimate called for a 2.8 million acre increase in corn and a 4 million acre decrease in soybeans for next season. USDA’s baseline projections released in November pegged a drop in soybean acreage to 82.5 million acres, with corn acreage increasing to 92 million. Wheat seedings would also increase 6.6 percent from 2018 to 51 million acres.

DEKALB Asgrow agronomist Keith Mockler covers southeast South Dakota. He said as he talks to farmers planning for 2019, he hears a common theme that corn acres will be up compared to soybeans and he said that is the same trend playing out across the country.

“You know, I think nationally we could probably go up on corn 4 million to 5 million acres and that wouldn’t include a lot of corn on corn,” Mockler said.

He said generally the corn soybean price ratio has to be 2.5 to 1 or higher in favor of soybeans to spur farmers to plant more beans.

“Today, that ratio is more like 2.3 to 1 on new crop beans versus corn and that doesn’t generate enough revenue per acre for guys to plant beans. It’s a gross margin game,” he said.   

The one caveat is Mother Nature. Randy Martinson with Martinson Ag in Fargo is doubtful there will be a huge swing into corn in the northwestern corn belt and states like North Dakota, due in part to the late harvest season.  

“Farmers were still harvesting corn and even soybeans into December and didn’t get much fall tillage done in those areas. If the soil conditions stay wet through spring, farmers won’t be able to plant corn on or even spring wheat — they will be forced to plant beans.”

Mockler agrees that weather may be the trump card. “You know, we’re going to have some cooperative weather in the spring to get that much corn planted because you’re talking corn could touch 93 to 94 million acres in the U.S.”     

As farmers look ahead to 2019, they’re also facing the prospect of higher input costs for herbicides and fertilizer, in part due to the ongoing China tariffs. Mockler said nitrogen has taken the biggest hike. It is also a function of supply and demand as not a lot of anhydrous was put on in the fall, so that’s pushing prices up for urea and liquid nitrogen products at the 28 percent and 32 percent level

“It’s substantially higher, especially on the nitrogen side. You know you’re looking at probably close to $70 per ton on urea higher than a year ago at this time,” he said.

However, he thinks phosphorus and potassium prices could remain fairly steady through the winter.  

Some herbicides that contain active ingredients manufactured in China have also gone up in price. Mockler said that is the case with products containing generic glyphosate or Roundup.    However, he said, branded herbicide products made in the United States by companies like Bayer Crop Science are more stable in price.

“In the whole scheme of things, it’s probably a couple of dollars an acre increase in an entire herbicide system,” Mockler said.  

Overall, the uncertainty in the marketplace has more farmers than normal waiting to make their planting decisions for 2019.

“The guys that are sitting on the fence now, which is a lot of growers, are just trying to look at their cash flows and trying to figure out what’s going to work,” he said.