USDA’s March 31 Prospective Plantings report caught much of the trade off guard with estimates of lower than anticipated corn plantings for 2003/04. Meanwhile, U.S. farmers intend to plant the lowest soybean acreage since 1998 and slightly more cotton acres than last year.

According to surveys taken in late February and early March, U.S. corn growers intend to plant 79 million acres of corn for all purposes in 2003, virtually unchanged from 2002 but 4 percent above 2001. Expected acreage is up in the eastern Corn Belt as growers are switching back to corn after planting soybeans last year when persistent wet weather in the spring prevented them from seeding corn. However, all states in the Great Plains, except North Dakota, are decreasing their intended corn plantings as continued drought conditions are expected to persist into the 2003 crop year.

Arkansas and Tennessee corn producers intend to increase their plantings to 350,000 acres and 740,000 acres, respectively, increases of 30 percent and 7 percent over last year. Intended plantings for Mississippi are 550,000 acres, unchanged from last year’s acreage, while Louisiana intends to decrease plantings by 10 percent to 520,000 acres.

Soybean growers intend to plant an estimated 73.2 million acres of soybeans, down 1 percent from last year and, if realized, the lowest planted area since 1998. This is the third consecutive year that soybean acreage has declined in the United States. Growers in most of the Corn Belt and central Great Plains intend to plant fewer acres in 2003. Expected increases in acreage, offsetting some of the decreases are expected in the northern Great Plains, upper Mississippi Valley, Atlantic Coast, and Delta regions.

Mississippi and Louisiana soybean producers intend to increase acres to 1.5 million acres and 850,000 acres respectively, while Tennessee and Arkansas expect slight decreases.

All cotton plantings for 2003 are expected to total 14.3 million acres, 2 percent above last year. Upland acreage is expected to total 14.1 million acres, a 2 percent increase from 2002. Producers in the Southeast and Arizona intend to decrease acreage from last year. All other cotton producing states intend to increase planted acreage, except for Oklahoma growers who intend to plant the same acreage as last year. American-Pima cotton growers intend to decrease plantings to 200,000 acres, down 18 percent from 2002. The decrease is primarily in California, where producers are intending to plant 40,000 acres less than last year.

The greatest year to year rise in cotton plantings comes in Kansas, which expects to increase its acreage from 80,000 acres to 100,000 acres, a 38 percent bump. Cotton acreage is expected to rise in all Mid-South states, including Arkansas, 1.03 million acres, a 7 percent increase; Louisiana, 530,000 acres, a 2 percent increase; Mississippi, 1.125 million acres, a 7 percent increase; Tennessee, 600,000 acres, a 5 percent increase; and Missouri, 410,000 acres, an 8 percent increase.

All wheat planted area is expected to total 61.7 million acres in 2003, up 2 percent from 2002. Winter wheat planted area for the 2003 crop is 44.3 million acres, up 6 percent from 2002.

e-mail: erobinson@primediabusiness.com