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AFBF: Slightly more soybean acres expected in 2009

U.S. farmers are expected to plant slightly more soybean acres and less corn, cotton and wheat, compared to a year ago, according to a key government report.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture released the results of its March 1 survey of farmers' planting intentions, along with the quarterly grain stocks report of March 1. The planting numbers provide a first look at farmers' plans for the crop year and also reflect the first official USDA report for the 2009 crop growing year. A follow-up survey of farmers' planting intentions will be conducted around June 1, with subsequent reports to follow over the summer.

Farmers are planning to plant 76 million acres of soybeans in 2009, up less than 1 percent from last year, compared to expectations of a 5 percent increase.

"The slight increase in soybean acreage was the one surprising estimate from the report," said Terry Francl, senior economist with the American Farm Bureau Federation.

The prospective plantings report suggests U.S. farmers intend to plant 85 million acres of corn this year, down a little more than 1 percent from 2008. Cotton acreage is anticipated at 8.8 million acres, down 7 percent, while wheat acreage is expected to come in at 58.6 million acres, also down 7 percent compared to 2008.

"Total acreage for the four major crops to be planted in 2009--corn, soybeans, wheat and cotton--is estimated to be down by 5.9 million acres or 2.5 percent less than actual plantings in 2008," said Francl.

"Most of the reduction in total estimated crop acreage for 2009 can be attributed to reduction in wheat, which is down 4.5 million acres," Francl said. He also noted that lower crop prices and higher costs for inputs including fertilizer and seed are drivers behind the lower overall acreage estimates for 2009.

Prior to publication of the report, analysts and industry experts speculated on whether or not farmers would respond to higher fertilizer prices by planting less corn this year than in 2008.

"Corn still trumps soybeans by $50 to $60 in terms of average return per acre. The fact that growers sometimes are reluctant to make changes to well-established crop rotation patterns is also a factor," explained Francl.

Although the planting intentions report provides useful projections, historically, growers adjust their planting mix in response to spring weather, Francl said. In prior years, final planted corn versus soybean acreage has varied by up to 3 million acres compared to the March 1 estimate.

Except for soybeans, the prospective plantings figures tracked fairly closely to pre-report, mid-point acreage estimates and the accompanying grain stocks report "held no surprises" according to Francl.

"On balance, the reports imply that we'll see more balanced supply and demand conditions for grains and oilseeds in 2009-10 compared to 2008-09," Francl concluded.

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