DES MOINES, Iowa — Farmers intend to plant 97.3 million acres of corn this year, the most since 1936, the USDA's spring planting survey said Thursday.
The overall corn acreage forecast is up slightly from last year's 97.2 million acres and reflects a shift in where the grain is grown. Acreage in some states hit hardest by last year's drought retreated, while Southern states such as Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas are shifting cotton acres to corn.
Chad Hart, an agriculture economist at Iowa State University, said Texas is a prime example. The state is changing more than 1 million acres normally planted in cotton for corn. Farmers there are in need of grain to feed livestock after two years of debilitating drought and are betting on a corn crop to replenish feed, Hart said.
Corn remains profitable, as prices are holding strong at around $7 per bushel because drought conditions left the grain in short supply. Corn stocks fell 10 percent from a year ago to 5.40 billion bushels, the lowest March stockpiles since 2003, the USDA said in a separate report.
Corn prices fell after the report was released, as it showed there was 7 percent more corn stockpiled than expected.
Record corn acreage is expected in Arizona, Idaho, Minnesota, Nevada, North Dakota, and Oregon. Iowa, the nation's leading corn producer, will plant an estimated 14.2 million acres in corn, the same as last year. And Minnesota is up 3 percent to 9 million acres. But the states that suffered significantly during last year's drought — the worst since the 1950s — expect to plant slightly less corn acreage: Illinois' acres are down 5 percent to 12.2 million and Nebraska corn acres are down 1 percent at 9.9 million acres.
Brad Tank, a farmer near the western Iowa town of Blencoe, said he expects to plant his normal mix of half corn and half soybeans on his 685 acres. "I'm hoping that with winter hanging on longer than it did last year that things will be a little more toward normal," he said.
The USDA report addressed other crops, too, including soybeans. Farmers plan to plant 77.1 million acres — a small decline from 2012's 77.2 million acres but still the fourth highest on record.
Compared with last year, soybean acreage intentions are down across all of the Great Plains, with the exception of North Dakota, as drought conditions have persisted. However, increases in planted area across most of the eastern Corn Belt and parts of the Southeast nearly balance out the plains' declines.
If the estimates come to fruition, the planted soybean areas in New York, North Dakota and Pennsylvania will be the largest on record.