Crop Acre Shift May Slow
“Many of our clients were new to cotton when it expanded 35 years ago,” said Connell. “They learned new tactics for the crop. They are doing it again with sorghum. Some of them remember their dads having some, but they don’t know the old ways. It has been so long since it’s been grown here.”
The experiences of Connell and Royal are a reflection of recent shifts in cropping acres throughout the country. Over the past 10 to 12 years, large acreages in the South moved from cotton and rice to corn and soybeans. In the Plains states, wheat dropped significantly as corn and soybeans rose. Hay in the West is down some, though not as much as the rest of the country.
MARKET TRENDS DRIVING SHIFTS
While the delayed 2013 spring created some turmoil, USDA Economic Research Service projected total crop acres for corn, soybeans and wheat slightly higher than in 2012. Total crop acres for the eight largest crops (corn, soybeans, wheat, sorghum, barley, rice, oats and cotton) were expected to match 2012. However, continued crop acre shifts were also projected year to year within the group. These included an 18.6 percent decrease in cotton acres, a 22 percent increase in sorghum acres and a 3 percent decline in rice.
Mark Jekanowski, economist, USDA, ERS, follows crop acres closely. Along with colleague Gary Vocke, he recently reported on the impact of prices on market trends in Amber Waves, a USDA ERS online publication. He said crop acre fluctuations are simply U.S. farmers doing what they do best, responding to market signals.
“There are always costs or constraints to shifts among crops,” said Jekanowski. “While it is relatively easy to shift between corn and soybeans, the investment needed for cotton might keep some farmers in it and others out. That said, farmers in the U.S. and elsewhere do respond relatively quickly to changing price conditions and show a willingness to expand into crops not traditionally grown on their farms.”
For much of the change in crop acres over the past decade, Jekanowski gave credit to the government policies and support for biofuels, as well as international demand for food and feed grains. The former supported the tremendous expansion of corn. Export demand helped soybeans maintain and expand their acres.
“You can’t just substitute corn for soybeans in the world market,” said Jekanowski. “You have to maintain roughly the same production of soybeans.”