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By Jonathan Knutson, Forum News Service, Published March 28 2013

USDA says corn acres will continue to rise

GRAND FORKS – Corn, already on the rise in the Upper Midwest, will shine even brighter this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts.

Farmers in North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota will, on balance, plant more corn this year than in 2012, according to USDA’s influential prospective plantings report issued March 28.

The outlook for wheat and soybeans, the region’s other two major crops, is mixed.

North Dakota farmers will plant an estimated

4.1 million acres of corn this spring, up from the record 3.6 million acres in 2012.

“This is in line with what we were expecting,” said Tom Lilja, executive director of the North Dakota Corn Growers Association.

Corn prices have been extremely strong, in part because the 2012 drought hurt production in the U.S. Corn Belt. Also, new faster-maturing corn varieties allow the crop to be raised in parts of the Northern Plains where the growing season once was too short.

This year, for the first time, corn grown in some areas of western North Dakota is eligible for coverage under federally subsidized crop insurance, which will encourage more farmers to grow it, Lilja said.

Minnesota farmers also are expected to plant more corn, with acreage in the state rising to a record

9 million from 8.75 million in 2012.

Corn’s popularity is growing particularly fast in northwest Minnesota, where new varieties now allow the crop to be planted relatively safely.

USDA estimates South Dakota farmers will plant 5.9 million acres of corn, down from 6.15 million acres in 2012.

Drought has hammered parts of South Dakota, and farmers in hard-hit areas are expected to plant more acres to crops that require less moisture than corn. Some South Dakota fields also could be planted to hay, which is in short supply because of drought, officials say.

Nationwide, U.S. corn growers will plant an estimated 97.3 million acres of corn, up slightly from a year ago and 6 percent higher than in 2011.

The annual report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of USDA, reflects what farmers, when surveyed in early March, said they expect to plant this spring.

The numbers in Thursday’s report will affect grain prices, which will influence what farmers end up planting. USDA will release actual planting figures June 29.

“This is just USDA’s first shot at it (estimating acreage),” said John Sandbakken, executive director of the National Sunflower Association in Mandan, N.D. “There will be some adjustments in what’s actually planted.”

Wheat, once the region’s dominant crop, has lost acres in recent years to corn and soybeans.

The March 28 report, though containing several positive signs for the region’s wheat industry, indicates that trend won’t change in 2012.

In North Dakota, farmers will plant an estimated

7.65 million acres of wheat, down from 7.84 million in 2012.

That reflects big projected declines in winter wheat and durum wheat acres from a year ago. The number of spring wheat acres, however, is expected to rise to 6.2 million from 2012’s 5.75 million.

Minnesota wheat acreage is estimated at 1.4 million, up from 1.39 million a year ago.

U.S. farmers will plant an estimated 77.1 million acres of soybeans this spring, down slightly from 2012.