U.S. soybean farmers will plant a record 75.4 million acres in 2004, while their cotton brethren will increase their plantings 7 percent to a little more than 14.4 million acres, according to USDA's March 31 Planting Intentions Report.

The report, which surveyed grower intentions as of March 1, also forecast more acreage for rice and corn and reduced wheat plantings.

Soybean growers told USDA they intend to plant an estimated 75.4 million acres, up 3 percent from last year. If realized, this will be the largest planted area on record and a rebound from a three-year decline in acreage.

Growers in all states except South Dakota and Wisconsin intend to plant more than or at least as many acres of soybeans as last year. Current high prices are encouraging many producers to plant more soybeans, with the largest acreage increases expected in North Dakota and Minnesota.

Even New Yorkers are getting into the act. Growers there are expected to increase soybean acres 36 percent, to 190,000 acres. Increases are also expected in Louisiana, up 29 percent to 980,000 acres; Texas, up 35 percent to 270,000 acres; Mississippi, up 15 percent to 1.65 million acres; and Arkansas up 4 percent to a little over 3 million acres.

The largest soybean producing state, Iowa, could expand its acres 1 percent to 10.7 million acres.

USDA pegged cotton plantings for 2004 at 14.4 million acres, 7 percent above last year. Upland acreage is expected to total 14.2 million acres, also a 7 percent increase. American Pima cotton growers intend to increase their plantings to 226,600 acres, up 27 percent from 2003. The increase is primarily in California where producers are intending to plant 50,000 acres more than last year.

Only two states decreased forecast cotton plantings for the coming year, Mississippi, which may drop 1 percent to 1.1 million acres and North Carolina, which could lower its plantings 2 percent to 790,000 acres. Arkansas growers indicated they could increase cotton acres 7 percent to 1.05 million acres; Louisiana 14 percent to 600,000 acres; Missouri, 3 percent to 410,000 acres; and Tennessee, 5 percent to 590,000 acres.

Kansas may again show the largest year-to-year change with a 44 percent increase to 130,000 acres, surpassing Virginia, New Mexico and Florida in forecast acreage.

U.S. corn acreage, meanwhile, was forecast to increase incrementally from 2003 to a little over 79 million acres. Acreage is expected to decrease 23 percent in Arkansas, 13 percent in Louisiana, 18 percent in Mississippi and 8 percent in Tennessee, as growers possibly increase acreage in rice, cotton and soybeans.

Wheat planted area is expected to total 59.5 million acres in 2004, down 4 percent from 2003. Winter wheat planted area for the 2004 crop is 43.4 million acres, down 3 percent from 2003. Of the total, about 30.9 million acres are hard red winter, 8.3 million acres are soft red winter, and 4.2 million acres are white winter. The 2004 other spring wheat planted acreage is estimated at 13.3 million, down 4 percent from last year. Of the total, about 12.7 million acres are hard red spring wheat. Area planted to durum wheat is intended to total 2.76 million acres, down 5 percent from a year ago.

e-mail: erobinson@primediabusiness.com