Midwestern farmers will likely generate higher incomes in 2011 from growing corn compared to soybeans, says Gary Schnitkey, University of Illinois (U of I) agricultural economist. Schnitkey’s profit predictions follow from having projected corn and soybean budgets for December and then updating them again in late February.

“The big thing that has changed since December is that we’ve increased both the corn and soybean prices significantly,” he says. “Right now we’re projecting corn prices to average $5.50/bu. and soybean prices to average $13.40/bu. for the 2011 marketing year.”

Fertilizer prices and most other agricultural input costs have remained nearly the same as projected in December, says Schnitkey. “Anhydrous ammonia prices have gone up somewhat recently, but not like they did when heading into the 2009 cropping season,” he points out. “We’re projecting anhydrous ammonia costs to average about $780/ton in 2011, which is a lot less than the $1,000/ton farmers encountered in the fall of 2008.”

If crop prices continue trending significantly higher than production costs, farmers will likely profit well from either crop, he adds. “Projected returns for both corn and soybeans look to be very promising right now,” says Schnitkey. “It’s kind of like choosing between a Snickers Bar and a Milky Way – each has its own appeal. However, the returns from corn production are projected to be almost two times as high as the returns from soybean production this year – and that’s the case throughout the Midwest on all types of soils.”

Nearly double-money-incentiveto grow corn over soybeans could tempt some to switch their crop rotations to more corn-after-corn production, he points out. Yet, others may be hesitant to do so if basing their decision mainly on corn and soybean performance in 2010, Schnitkey adds.

In Illinois last year, many farmers had very good yields from soybeans and somewhat substandard yields for corn, points out Schnitkey. “2010 was sort of a breakout year for soybean production here,” he says. “I don’t know if that will happen again, but yields were pretty high with some of the new varieties that came out last year.”

Soybean growers truly had “phenomenal yields” here in 2010, confirms Vince Davis, U of I Extension soybean specialist. “It was a record year for Illinois soybean production and yields.”

2010 corn yields disappointing

In comparison, corn yields were “disappointing last year to a lot of people in Illinois, particularly for those who planted corn after corn, or who had a lot of acres in continuous corn,” he says. “There were a fair number of growers who had their lowest corn yields in 2010 compared to what they’ve had for the last several years.”

With a good many growers feeling disheartened by continuous corn production last year and more than satisfied with their soybean yields, some “might actually be interested in planting more soybeans than corn in 2011, but I don’t foresee a dramatic shift in acres,” says Davis. “If we fell into a weather pattern that delayed planting quite a bit, that might shift a few more acres toward soybeans in 2011, too, but it’s still too early to say what might happen.

“Once corn producers have made their investments in pre-emergence herbicides and nitrogen applications, they’re not going to want to shift to soybeans,” he adds. “So, I don’t see any big shifts one way or the other for 2011 right now.”

Still, farmers do need to plan ahead in case a cold, wet spring weather pattern arises again this year, advises Davis. “When choosing soybean varieties and crop protection products, we’ll need to think about potential problems with soybean seedling diseases, plus white mold and sudden death syndrome (SDS),” he says. “In Illinois, we didn’t have a very bad problem with SDS in 2010 like Iowa did, but that’s not saying it won’t happen here this year.”

Davis advises soybean growers to consult the U of I’s Varietal Information Program for Soybeans (VIPS) website to select varieties for disease resistance. He also recommends farmers pay particular attention to soil conditions prior to planting soybeans in places where disease problems have been present in the past.

Regardless how challenging this spring’s weather and disease pressure may end up, current high prices for corn and soybeans will likely result in “crop insurance coverage at a fairly high level, which will provide a lot of downside protection to growers,” says Schnitkey. “So, for now, there’s not much bad news to report concerning projected incomes from producing either corn or soybeans for 2011 – it all looks pretty good.”

For more detailed information on the projected 2011 costs and returns for corn and soybean production in Illinois, download a U of I pdf