While cotton will no doubt be king of crops in 2011 in the Southeast, the recently released USDA Planting Intentions Survey shows some interesting predictions for the Southeast region.

Perhaps the biggest differential in what farmers contend and what the March 31 USDA survey shows is a huge increase in wheat and barley, which doesn’t historically jive with a reduction in soybean acreage, which is predicted in most Southeast states.

Wheat at 80-90 bushels per acre and soybeans at 30-40 bushels per acre seem to be an economic juggernaut. Based on current pricing, a bushel of wheat and soybeans will sell for something close to $20 a bushel — more if the grower hits the market just right. Based on an average yield, that would produce over $1,000 per acre.

By comparison, two bale cotton at $1.10 a pound would produce — about $1,000 per acre.

In the Southeast in 2011, one word — cotton — seems to define what other crops will be planted.

While predicted increases in wheat would follow a predictable pattern of growers planting more of the crop to take advantage of high market prices, the reduction in soybean acreage doesn’t quite make sense. The double-crop pricing advantage of wheat and soybeans, even versus cotton, would seem to call for more soybeans.

The USDA survey predicts for wheat acreage in the Southeast an increase of acreage that ranges from 9 percent in Florida to 61 percent in Virginia. In North Carolina and Virginia, where cotton acreage is expected to jump by 51 and 36 percent, wheat acreage is expected to increase 61 and 40 percent.

In Alabama and Georgia, soybean acreage is predicted to fall 11 and 22 percent, respectively. Traditional cotton production areas in south Georgia and the Tennessee Valley of Alabama had significant increases in soybeans the past few years, but clearly cotton is taking most of those acres back in 2011. However, Alabama is projected to increase wheat production by 27 percent and Georgia by 47 percent.

For a look at what U.S. growers told USDA they planned to plant in 201, see http://southeastfarmpress.com/cotton/cotton-acres-expected-climb-15-percent.

South Carolina is a whole different anomaly according to the USDA report. Acreage in the Palmetto state is expected to increase in all major crops. The USDA report calls for increases in cotton by 29 percent, wheat by 38 percent, soybeans by 10 percent, peanuts by 4 percent and corn by 3 percent.

Where will the acreage come from?

Where all the extra acreage will come from isn’t covered in the report, but does raise some interesting questions in terms of overall number of acres to be planted in South Carolina in 2011.

While big acreage increases are predicted for wheat in North Carolina and Virginia, the increased production isn’t expected to come at the expense of barley acreage. With a big ethanol plant that uses primarily barley for stock coming online this spring, the hope for increased acreage within 150 miles of the Hopewell, Va. plant appears to be happening, at least according to the USDA report.

Growers in Virginia are expected to plant 33 percent more barley this year and North Carolina growers by 20 percent. The biggest increase is likely to come from the nearby Del Marva Peninsula, where barley planting in Delaware is expected to jump 50 percent and by an incredible 122 percent in Maryland.

The big increase in barley acreage further confuses the reduction in soybeans in North Carolina and only a slight increase in soybeans in Virginia, Maryland and Delaware. Historically, double-crop soybean yields have been higher behind barley than wheat, which indicates an even better pricing advantage, if soybean prices remain high.

Of the major row crops grown in the Southeast, clearly the big winner is cotton. Big increases in acreage are indicated in most state by the recent USDA survey of farmers.

Cotton planting is expected to jump by 21 percent in Alabama, 29 percent in South Carolina, 36 percent in North Carolina and 51 percent in Virginia. Georgia and Florida increases are projected at a more modest 9 percent.

Some in Georgia, the Southeast’s largest cotton producing state, contend the USDA estimates are low. The consensus among Georgia ginners and growers is that there will be better than a 10 percent increase in cotton acres in 2010.

Though the survey was initiated in February, prices have not fluctuated greatly since that time, though confidence that prices will remain strong is clearly higher now than when the survey took place.

Overall, the winter of 2010-11 was cool and dry. The nation's winter average temperature of 32.3 degrees Fahrenheit was 0.7 degree below the 20th century mean, and represented the 39th-lowest value during the 116-year period of record.

Florida had the 10th coldest winter on record in 2011. State IPM directors across the Southeast agree this could have a positive effect on insects and diseases that historically move south to north during the cropping season.

Moisture will be key in some areas

Alabama, North Carolina, and Virginia all were among the top driest areas of the country. Moisture will likely play a key role in what some growers plant.

In areas where glyphosate resistant weeds are a problem, the lack of moisture may steer them away from some crops that require pre-emerge herbicides as part of their management strategies to reduce competition from herbicide resistant weeds.

Corn planting is well under way in the southern part of the Southeast and has started or is near a start throughout the region.

Late March rains helped in Florida, Georgia and Alabama, but did not take many areas out of a moisture deficit situation. How much this affected corn planting is not certain, but could open up even more acreage for later planted cotton.

Dramatic increases in the middle class in China, India and other Asian countries has spurred demand for many things once the primary domain of western cultures. People with money in these rapidly developing countries want cars, cotton clothes, high protein meat products, and they apparently want tobacco.

The USDA report predicts a slight increase in flue-cured tobacco and a 3 percent drop in burley acreage in 2011. Georgia is expected to see a 5 percent increase in tobacco acreage, while Kentucky and South Carolina are expected to lose 8-9 percent of their tobacco acreage.

North Carolina is the largest sweet potato growing state in the Southeast and acreage is going up, according to the USDA farmer survey. A 9 percent increase in acreage, which is what the survey projects, would push acreage up to more than 60,000 acres for 2011.

Other sweet potato producing states are expected to remain near 2010 acreage levels, except for Florida, which is projected to lose 9 percent.

Nationally, corn, cotton, soybeans and wheat production is predicted to increase by 10 percent over 2010. Price is the driving force, with cotton up 142 percent and corn 82 percent. Acreage for the top four row crops is expected to top 240,000,000 in 2011.

Already the price increase being paid for grain is appearing in grocery store markups on food. Rises in energy costs and continued high prices for cotton have forced some stores in the U.S. to raise prices, despite a stagnant comeback by the U. S. economy.

Where all the extra acres will come from makes this one of the most interesting planting seasons in many years. For one possibility on the question of additional acreage, visit http://southeastfarmpress.com/grains/corn-may-grab-acres-kentucky-pastures-hay-fields.

rroberson@farmpress.com