DES MOINES, Iowa — Corn has been dethroned as the king of crops, with farmers reporting they intend to plant more soybeans than corn for the first time in 35 years.

Profitability is the primary reason that farmers indicate they intend to plant 89 million acres of soybeans and 88 million acres of corn, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Thursday in its annual prospective planting report.

Corn costs much more to plant because of required demands for pest and disease control and fertilizer. When the profitability of both crops is close, farmers bet on soybeans for a better return, said Chad Hart, an agriculture economist at Iowa State University.

“We’re hearing a lot more folks talk about when they’ve looked over the past couple of years, beans have performed better than corn in terms of farm returns,” Hart said. “When they’re feeling a little pinched, they do tend to look to control their cost side and that’s where beans have an advantage over corn.” Soybeans cost 60-70 percent of what corn does to plant, he said.

The report is an estimate based on farmer surveys and could change depending on weather and commodity prices at planting time.

The only year when soybean acres beat corn in recent memory was 1983, but it was because of government manipulation: The USDA was pushing farmers to plant fewer acres in an effort to boost prices in the midst of the nation’s worst farm crisis.


Narrow profitability explains why total acreage planted for all major U.S. crops will fall by about 1 million acres this year. Much of the land will likely be removed from production and used for pasture or remain unplanted, Hart said.

Corn acreage nationally will be 2 percent lower, or about 2 million acres, and soybean acreage will be down 1 percent, or about 1 million acres. Some of the previous corn and soybean land will be planted in wheat, which is growing by 3 percent in acreage planted, and cotton, which will be up 7 percent this year, or about 858,000 acres.

Ray Gaesser, who grows corn and soybeans on 6,000 acres in southwest Iowa near Corning, said planting intentions often change and acres devoted to corn and soybeans could rise from the estimates.

“We’ll probably see those total acres go up at planting time, but probably not as large as folks were thinking a month ago because the market is telling us to do something different,” said Gaesser, who also is chairman of the American Soybean Association.

Farmers in Iowa, the top corn-producing state, expect to plant 13.3 million acres, the same as last year. Illinois, Nebraska and Minnesota all plan on fewer acres of corn. Ohio is the only state expecting an increase, the USDA said.

Illinois, the top soybean producer, will plant 10.6 million acres, the same as last year. North Dakota also will plant the same amount of the tofu ingredient as last year. Decreases of 100,000 acres or more are anticipated in Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Carolina and Ohio.

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