If weather stays on track, farmers in the north can expect to get planting started earlier, which could lead to more opportunities for corn acres in some states. In Wisconsin, South Dakota and Minnesota corn will continue to dominate, though soybeans will make their bid at the crown. In North Dakota soybeans and wheat will duke it out for top spot, with soybeans favored for the win.
“We will see some of the corn acres switch,” says Shawn Conley, University of Wisconsin Extension state soybean and small grains specialist. “I expect 2.2 to 2.3 million soybean acres based on costs.”
Gains in soybean acreage in Wisconsin will likely come from corn and wheat—with wheat being the biggest loser, down 18% from last year. Farmers dedicate about one million corn acres to silage each year and around three million acres to grain production—which is in flux based on commodity price advantages to soybeans. In 2016 the state had 3.1 million corn acres and 1.95 million soybean acres.
In South Dakota corn has an edge on soybeans but might be at more risk for losing acres. More corn could be planted in the center part of the state, taking the place of wheat. Because soybeans don’t travel west as well, they likely won’t surpass corn and acreage should be similar to last year's 5.17 million acres.
“Corn will be No. 1 with soybeans a close second,” says Jon Kleinjan, South Dakota State University Extension crop production associate. “My gut says corn will have a slight increase in acreage of last year [5.21 million acres] since spring and winter wheat acres will be down.”
Minnesota farmers aren’t indicating they plan to change planting patterns much from last year's 8 million corn acres and 7.55 million soybean acres.
“We always plant a little more corn than soybeans,” says Jeff Coulter, University of Minnesota Extension corn agronomist. “The total number of acres of each crop fluctuations some year to year, but I expect it to be pretty similar.”
Home to a wide variety of crops, North Dakota sits as odd-man-out with soybeans expected to ring in at first place. With wheat prices down, the typical first-place crop is likely to surrender acres to the legume.
“We still have a few weeks for final decisions” says Hans Kandel North Dakota State University Extension agronomist. “Soybeans on paper are a little better than many crops.”
This past year North Dakota planted 3.25 million corn acres and 6.01 million soybean acres.
Low commodity prices across many key crops are going to be an influencer in planting decisions this spring. Striving to make money in a down year could lead some farmers to planting non-GMO corn or soybeans.
“There has been a lot of interest in non-GMO soybeans,” Kleinjan says. “I anticipate those acres to be up quite a bit [in South Dakota].”
In Wisconsin non-GMO corn will likely be more popular and North Dakota could see a mix of the two, though it’s not likely many acres will switch to the practice. Experts warn farmers should make sure they can manage risk before trying a new system such as non-GMO or an outlier crop.
“Don’t go into a new crop that you don’t have a contract for or know how to grow,” Conley says. “This is not a year you want to put a lot of risk on the table.”
In a year with tight margins Extension experts encourage farmers to remember the basics to achieve high yields: use good genetics, don’t plant in unfavorable conditions, scout, use smart herbicide applications, keep fertility up and be mindful of fungus and disease.
2017 Spring Planting Preview: Upper Midwest
States: Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin
Top Contender: Corn (soybeans in North Dakota)
Sleeper Crop: Non-GMO corn or soybeans
Factors to watch: Moisture at planting, disease and insects on the rise from a mild winter, corn to soybean ratio for crop decision