Lower returns on corn and hay are pushing crop growers to move more acreage to soybeans and cotton, according to USDA’s 2017 Prospective Plantings report, released March 31.
Hay acreage lowest in more than a century
U.S. dry hay producers intend to harvest 52.8 million acres of all dry hay in 2017, down about 650,000 acres (1 percent) from 2016. If realized, this will represent the fourth consecutive annual decline since 2013, and the lowest total hay harvested area since 1908.
The estimates do not provide breakouts for alfalfa/alfalfa mixture and other dry hay. USDA details those estimates in an annual Acreage report, to be released June 30.
With U.S. average hay prices mired at six-year lows, harvested area of all hay is expected to hold steady or decline in all Western and Southern states except Arkansas, Idaho and Washington (see Table 1).
Compared with a year earlier, Texas hay acreage will be down 530,000 acres, with declines of 100,000 acres anticipated in California and Kentucky. That will be offset somewhat by increases of 100,000 acres in South Dakota and Pennsylvania. Increases in harvested acreage are expected in several Upper Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states.
A record low for area harvested for all hay is expected in California, Indiana, Maine, New Hampshire, Ohio and Wisconsin in 2017.
Compared with more recent peak years, U.S. acreage harvested for hay is expected to be down nearly 3.5 million acres from 2012, and about 5 million acres less than in 2013.
Compared with five years ago, acreage harvested for hay was estimated down 860,000 acres in Missouri, 800,000 acres in Texas and 450,000 acres in California, but up 400,000 acres in Montana and 310,000 acres in North Dakota.
Compared with the previous peak in 2013, Missouri acreage will be down about 1.2 million acres, with Texas down 1.3 million acres.
USDA provided an early indication U.S. hay acreage was headed lower last winter, when it released estimates of acreage devoted to new alfalfa and alfalfa mixture hay seedings in 2016. At 2.268 million acres, the total was down about 11 percent from 2015 and the lowest acreage devoted to new seeding dating back to at least 1997.
Corn acreage lower
Early indications suggest U.S. corn acreage will be down about 4 percent from 2016, but 2 percent more than 2015. Growers intend to plant 90 million acres of corn for all purposes in 2017.
Compared with last year, acreage planted to corn for all purposes is expected to be down or unchanged in 38 of the 48 states where corn acreage is estimated, and down across most of the major corn-producing states, with the exception of Kansas. Acreage in Indiana and Ohio is expected to be unchanged from 2016.
Corn acreage decreases of 400,000 acres or more are expected in Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and Texas compared with last year. Record-low acreage is expected in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island. The reduction in planted acres is mainly due to the expectation of lower returns compared with other crops in 2017.
Record-high acreage is expected in Nevada and Oregon.
Wheat acreage down
One of the biggest acreage losers in 2017 will be wheat, according to USDA estimates. All wheat planted area for 2017 is estimated at 46.1 million acres, down 8 percent from 2016. This represents the lowest total U.S. planted area since records began in 1919. The 2017 winter wheat planted area, at 32.7 million acres, is down 9 percent from last year. Area planted to spring wheat for 2017 is estimated at 11.3 million acres, down 3 percent from 2016.
Soybean, cotton acreage up
The big winners in the competition for 2017 acreage appear to be soybeans and cotton.
Soybean planted area for 2017 is estimated at a record-high 89.5 million acres, up 7 percent from last year. Compared with last year, planted acreage intentions are up or unchanged in 27 of 31 states with soybean acreage estimates.
Increases of 500,000 acres or more are anticipated in Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota and Nebraska. If realized, the planted area in Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Wisconsin will be the largest on record.
All cotton planted area for 2017 is estimated at 12.2 million acres, 21 percent more than last year.
USDA’s acreage estimates are based primarily on grower surveys conducted during the first two weeks of March. Data on 2017 crop year planting/harvest acreage intentions was collected by mail, internet, telephone or personal interview.