USDA projects increased wheat planting this season
Wheat — which has long been losing ground, literally, to corn and soybeans — will stage a small comeback this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts.
Both U.S. and Upper Midwest farmers will plant a little more wheat and a little less corn and soybeans this spring, according to projections in the annual Prospective Plantings report, released Thursday, March 29, by the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service.
The three key sets of statistics:
• Corn planted for all purposes is pegged at 88 million acres, down 2 percent from a year ago.
• Soybean planted acreage is estimated at 89 million, down 1 percent from 2017.
• Total wheat planted is estimated at 47.3 million, up 3 percent from a year ago.
The widely watched report is the federal government's best guess of planting intentions based on farmer surveys in early March. Actual planted acreage varies, in some cases greatly.
Now, grain markets will digest the report, causing prices of some crops to rise or fall. That, in turn, will influence what farmers end up planting. April and early May weather will have a huge influence, too.
Corn, soybeans and wheat are the Upper Midwest's three most important crops. But many other crops are grown in the area, too.
Spring wheat fares well
New and improved corn and soybean varieties have for years encouraged Upper Midwest farmers to plant more of those crops and less spring wheat, the region's most widely grown type of wheat. But that trend will reverse this year, USDA says.
North Dakota farmers, in particular, will plant more spring wheat. USDA projects they'll plant 6.4 million acres, a whopping 1.05 million acres more than a year ago.
"We were expecting an increase, but not one quite that large," said Erica Olson, market development and research manager for the North Dakota Wheat commission.
Strong 2017 spring wheat yields in parts of the state encourage farmers to increase acreage this year. Wheat prices this spring are high enough, relative to other crops, to generate additional interest, too, Olson said.
Wheat, a cool-season grass, generally fares best when planted early. So a late spring could mean less wheat ends up being planted, she said.
Minnesota farmers will plant 440,000 more spring wheat acres this spring than a year ago, South Dakota farmers 80,000 acres more in 2017, USDA predicts.
Montana farmers will plant the same number of spring wheat acres as in 2017, USDA estimates.
Pulse crops, including chickpeas, are increasingly popular in parts of Montana where spring wheat traditionally is grown. USDA predicts that Montana farmers will plant 308,000 acres of chickpeas this spring, 39,000 more than a year ago.
Sluggish corn prices make farmers less likely to plant corn, which is reflected in the report.
Minnesota farmers will plant 7.5 million acres of corn this year, 550,000 fewer than a year ago, USDA predicts.
Harold Wolle, a Madelia, Minn., farmer and chairman of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, said he thinks corn acreage will end up higher than USDA estimates.
But he also thinks some farmers in northwest Minnesota, where spring wheat is common, will plant more of that crop and less corn.
South Dakota ag producers will plant 5.7 million acres, unchanged from 2017, USDA projects.
In North Dakota, farmers will plant 3.05 million acres, a drop of 370,000 acres from 2017, USDA says.
Soybean prices have held up relatively well, leading many to expect an increase in 2018 acreage. But USDA's projections don't show that.
Minnesota soybean acreage is estimated at 7.9 million, down 250,000 acres from 2017.
South Dakota soybean acreage is projected at 5.6 million, down 50,000 acres from 2017.
North Dakota soybean acres are pegged at 7.1 million, unchanged from a year ago.
Joe Ericson, a Wimbledon, N.D., farmer and president of the North Dakota Soybean Growers Association, said he was surprised by USDA's estimate for the state.
He and other leaders of his group "had been thinking the number would be more like 7.4 million (acres), not 7.1 million."
He was unsure why USDA's estimate came in lower. But a late spring — soybeans typically are planted later than wheat and corn — would encourage farmers to plant more soybeans, Ericson said.
USDA's 2018 acreage estimates for some other popular crops in the Upper Midwest:
• Barley — 2.28 million, down from 2.48 million last year.
• Canola — 2.07 million, unchanged from last year.
• Oats — 2.7 million, up from 2.6 million last year.
• Sunflowers — 1.38 million, down from 1.4 million last year.