The March 31 USDA prospective plantings report was one of the most eagerly anticipated in recent memory, due largely to the fact that farmers’ choices could affect what American consumers pay for necessities like gasoline and groceries.

The government’s first estimate of this spring’s crop shows corn acreage will be down 8 percent and cotton acreage will be down 13 percent, while soybean acreage will be up 18 percent, wheat will be up 6 percent, and peanut acreage will increase by 16 percent.

U.S. corn growers intend to plant 86 million acres of corn for all purposes in 2008, down 8 percent from last year when corn planted area was the highest since 1944. Expected acreage is down from last year in most states as favorable prices for other crops, high input costs for corn, and crop rotation considerations are motivating some farmers to plant fewer acres to corn.

Despite the decrease, corn acreage is expected to remain at historically high levels as the corn price outlook remains strong due in part to the continued expansion in ethanol production, according to the USDA’s report.

In the Southeast, Alabama farmers are expected to plant 240,000 acres of corn, or a 29 percent decrease from 2007. Florida’s acreage is pegged at 70,000 or 7 percent less than last year while Georgia growers are expected to plant 370,000 acres of corn or 27 percent less than last year. North Carolina farmers plan to decrease their corn acreage by 16 percent this year, down to 920,000 acres while South Carolina will plant 340,000 acres — a 15 percent decrease from 2007.

Virginia growers are eyeing a 500,000 corn crop, or 9 percent less than last year, while Kentucky farmers expect to plant 1.23 million acres of corn or 15 percent less than last year.

U.S. soybean producers intend to plant 74.8 million acres in 2008, up 18 percent from last year but, 1 percent below the record-high acreage in 2006. Acreage increases are expected in all states except in West Virginia, which is unchanged from last year.

The largest increases are expected in Iowa and Nebraska, up 1.25 million acres and 1.20 million acres from 2007, respectively. Increases of at least 800,000 acres are also expected in Indiana, Minnesota, and South Dakota. If realized, the planted acreage in Kansas, New York, and Pennsylvania will be the largest on record.

Southeastern growers are following the trend, with Alabama’s 2008 soybean acreage pegged at 350,000 or 84 percent more than last year. Georgia farmers expect to increase their soybean acreage by 44 percent to 410,000, while Florida is expecting a crop this year of 21,000 acres — a 50-percent increase.

Meanwhile, North Carolina farmers are planning to plant a 1.6-million acre soybean crop — a 13 percent increase over 2007 — while South Carolina expects a 530,000-acre crop or 18 percent increase over last year. Virginia growers plan to increase their soybean acreage by 8 percent to 540,000, while Kentucky growers are expecting a 1.3-million acre crop, which would represent a 21-percent increase over last year.

All wheat planted area is estimated at 63.8 million acres, up 6 percent from 2007.

The 2008 winter wheat planted area, at 46.8 million acres, is 4 percent above last year and up slightly from the previous estimate. Of this total, about 32.5 million acres are Hard Red Winter, 10.7 million acres are Soft Red Winter, and 3.63 million acres are White Winter.

Area planted to other spring wheat for 2008 is expected to total 14.3 million acres, up 8 percent from 2007. Of this total, about 13.6 million acres are Hard Red Spring wheat. The intended Durum planted area for 2008 is 2.63 million acres, up 22 percent from the previous year.

Alabama’s wheat acreage went to 200,000 this year, a 67-percent increase over the previous year, while Georgia planted about 480,000 acres for a 33-percent increase. Florida growers planted 25,000 acres for a 92-percent increase. In North Carolina, producers planted 820,000 acres of wheat for a 30-percent increase, while in South Carolina, growers planted 190,000 acres for a 19-percent increase.

Kentucky farmers planted 560,000 acres of wheat for a 27-percent increase while Virginia is looking at a 280,000-acre crop or a 22-percent increase.

All U.S. cotton plantings for 2008 are expected to total 9.39 million acres, 13 percent below last year. Upland acreage is expected to total 9.19 million, down 13 percent from last year, the lowest since 1983. Growers intend to decrease planted area in all states except Georgia and Oklahoma.

The largest acreage declines are in Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas.

American-Pima cotton growers intend to decrease their plantings by 30 percent from 2007, to 203,600 acres. California producers expect to plant 180,000 acres, down 31 percent from last year.

In the Southeast, Alabama growers plan to decrease cotton acreage by 25 percent to 300,000 while Georgia growers expect to increase acreage by 2 percent to just over 1 million. Florida producers intend to decrease cotton acreage by 15 percent to 72,000 while North Carolina growers are looking at 16-percent acreage decrease down to 420,000. South Carolina farmers are decreasing cotton acreage by 33 percent down to 120,000 while Virginia growers are expecting the same acreage as last year — 60,000.

U.S. peanut producers intend to plant 1.43 million acres of peanuts in 2008, up 16 percent from 2007. A higher price received for the 2007 crop, compared to the previous five years, is the main reason for the expected increase in planted acreage.

Southeast growers (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina) intend to plant 1.04 million acres in 2008, compared with the 898,000 acres planted in 2007. Georgia, the largest peanut-producing state, expects to see an increase of 23 percent in planted acreage from the previous year.

Growers in the Southwest (New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas) intend to plant 279,000 acres, up 28 percent from the previous year.

Plantings in the Virginia-North Carolina region are expected to total 108,000 acres, down 5 percent from 2007.

e-mail: phollis@farmpress.com