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Sarah Lovas, Hillsboro, N.D., Published November 16 2013

Letter: Farmers respond to market

The Forum’s front-page Associated Press article on Wednesday, Nov. 13, claims North Dakota corn production has increased at the expense of Conservation Reserve acres. The article also claims that the reason corn acreage has increased is ethanol production.

There is no correlation that CRP acres have decreased in order to facilitate an increase in corn acres. Further, the AP article does not show a statistical correlation between these two separate items.

Corn acres have increased because farmers must plant crops that are profitable for their farming operation. Sometimes this means cropping rotation must change over time. The commodity market has demanded corn, paid for corn, and therefore, it has been profitable to raise corn. At the same time, raising other crops on the same farmland was not as profitable.

My farm is a prime example of this acreage shift. We currently raise corn and soybeans, but 10 years ago the farm raised wheat and sugar beets. Wheat suffered from the disease scab, and sugar beets suffered from the root disease aphanomyces. These crops became unprofitable for us, and our rotation had to shift to more profitable crops in order to provide sustainability for the farm’s future.

In the article, Tom Lilja of the North Dakota Corn Growers Association attributed the corn acreage increase to decreased wheat acres. The article cited the greatest North Dakota corn acreage increase to be in Grand Forks and Walsh counties. My farm is in Traill County. According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, planted corn acres from 2000 to 2012 in Grand Forks, Walsh and Traill counties increased by 100,000, 45,800, and 76,500 acres, respectively. The wheat acres in Grand Forks, Walsh and Traill counties decreased during these years by 126,900, 84,000 and 78,700, respectively. These numbers do not show correlation between decreased planted wheat acreage and increased corn acreage. However, they do suggest that decreased CRP acreage may have had nothing to do with increased corn acreage.

Not all farms sell corn to ethanol plants. Our farm has never sold a bushel to an ethanol plant. We are not against ethanol plants; it just makes sense to sell our crop to the local elevator. The nearest ethanol plant is 45 miles away, and the nearest grain elevator is less than a mile from the farm. The corn sold to the elevator is primarily used for the export market on the West Coast and therefore does not support the ethanol industry. According to a recent Bloomberg report on Nov. 8, only 35 percent of bushels from the 2013 corn crop are predicted to be used for ethanol.

Farmers routinely adapt to weather and markets. Crop rotation shifts reflect farmers adapting to these changes. NASS showed that average sale price for a bushel of corn to be $1.65, $3.74, and $6.85 in 2000, 2008 and 2012, respectively. The price change might explain the increase in corn acreage. However, the cash price for a bushel of corn at the local elevator on Nov. 13 was $3.85, half of what it was a year ago.

If all this planted corn is driving you crazy, don’t worry, the markets might be telling us to shift our acres again.

Lovas farms with her husband and father-in-law near Hillsboro, N.D., where they grow corn and soybeans. She grew up on a potato and sugar beet farm in northeast North Dakota She earned a degree at NDSU and worked as an agronomist for eight years. In August she completed an MS degree in soil science from NDSU.