Winter rumblings about farmers making major moves into more corn than beans this spring are as widespread as New Year's resolutions to lose weight. People are interested in both ideas, but we'll have to wait and see if there's any follow-through.

Last issue we ran a story called “Abandon Bean Acres?” (February, p. 13) addressing this potential shift in acreage. Since then, I've attended a couple of meetings and talked to several folks who continue to suggest we'll see more corn on corn in '04.

Gyles Randall, soils specialist from the University of Minnesota's Southwest Research and Outreach Center at Waseca, says he hasn't heard this much interest in corn on corn in more than 15 years. Specifically, that's a corn-corn-soybean rotation, not just continuous corn.

Curious, we decided to conduct an online survey of our readers to see just how serious you really are about this rotation change.

Of those who responded, 15% say they do, in fact, plan to grow more corn this year than last. Why? It's obvious — 90% of those say they anticipate more profit from corn.

Also, 25% of those reporting say they'll plant additional corn acres at the expense of soybean acres.

Since the 2002 Farm Bill, loan rates are having an impact on decisions to switch to more corn, says William Edwards, Iowa State University extension economist. “The previous loan rate favored soybeans; this one favors corn,” he says. “That will likely move more acres to corn as farmers make decisions based both on production and financial risk.”

I also suspect part of the jump to grow more corn is a reflection on last year's poor soybean crop and surprising corn yields, despite drought conditions in much of the Corn Belt.

Also, some farmers have told me that the growing volume of corn going into ethanol production has pushed them into a more-corn intensive rotation. In fact, 14% of those responding to our survey say they are currently selling corn to an ethanol plant.

Congress will take another run at passage of the Energy Bill, too. If passed, that certainly will fuel the move to more corn to keep the ethanol pipeline full.

If you're rethinking whether you should jump on the more-corn bandwagon, be sure to take a look at your insect and disease pressures. Be prepared to spend more money on inputs, such as insecticides, new seed technologies and nitrogen, says Dale Hicks, University of Minnesota extension agronomist. And expect about a 15% yield reduction in the first year after the switch, he adds.

Also, check into increasing your crop insurance coverage or think about using pre-harvest hedging to counter an increased risk in corn price and yield variability, says Gary Schnitkey, University of Illinois farm management specialist.

You've still got time to seriously consider making a move to planting more corn this year. But before you decide to pull the trigger, please be sure to look at all the economics and potential production changes. Use your Extension Service and crop consultants to help make your decision.

Greg Lamp
Editor
glamp@primediabusiness.com

SEE YOU IN LAS VEGAS

You're only a couple of weeks away from the annual 2004 Commodity Classic, the combined convention and trade show of the American Soybean Association and the National Corn Growers Association. Learn about the latest innovations in production ag and new trends in grain marketing and policy. This year the conference is March 2-4 in Las Vegas, NV. For information, call 636-928-3700 or visit www.commodityclassic.com. While you're at the trade show, please stop by our booth (#514-516) and say hello.