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Less corn and wheat, more soybeans in North Dakota fields this year, report suggests

Because the March 31 report was based on surveys of farmers’ planting intentions in early March, their plans could change before they get in the field.

wheat field
The March 31 USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service estimates there will be fewer wheat fields. in North Dakota and Minnesota this year than there were last year.

North Dakota farmers plan to seed fewer acres of corn and wheat and more acres of soybeans this spring than they did in 2019, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department National Agricultural Statistics Service March 31 planting intentions report.

The state’s farmers intend to plant 3.2 million acres of corn in 2020, 9% less than they did last year, said the annual report, which is based on a survey, conducted during the first two weeks in March, of about 80,000 farmers across the United States.

North Dakota’s 2020 hard, red spring wheat acres also are expected to decrease by 9% from last year, to 6.1 million acres, and the number of durum acres farmers plan to seed are estimated to drop by 11% from last year, to 640,000 acres, the report said.

Soybean acres in North Dakota are expected to see a big jump this year, growing to 6.6 million acres, an 18% increase over last year.

Minnesota farmers, like North Dakota farmers, also plan to decrease their wheat acres and increase their soybean acres this year. The state’s soybeans acres are expected to grow to 7.4 million this year, an 8% over last year, while Minnesota’s hard, red spring wheat acres are expected to decrease by 7% from last year to 1.35 million acres.


However, Minnesota farmers, in contrast to North Dakota farmers, intend to plant more corn than they did in 2019. Minnesota corn acreage is expected to increase to 8.4 million this year, an 8% increase over last year, the report said.

Nationwide, corn acreage is expected to increase to 97 million this spring, an 8% increase over last year, and the largest number of acres since 2012, the planting intentions report said. The U.S. total soybean acres, meanwhile, are expected to jump to 83.5 million this year, a 10% increase over last year, while hard, red spring acres wheat acres are expected to be 12.6 million, slightly less -- 1% -- than last year.

Frayne Olson, North Dakota State University Extension marketing specialist, expected the March 31 planting intentions report to show a decrease in hard, red spring wheat and durum acres, he said.

However, he was a bit surprised by the amount of the expected decline, Olson said.

“Both of those numbers were down a little harder than expected,” he said.

Given the quality issues with 2019 hard, red spring wheat and durum, though, it makes sense that farmers would decrease their acres of those crops, Olson said.

Meanwhile, some farmers in northwest Minnesota and North Dakota are still trying to harvest their 2019 corn crop, so may be wary of planting corn in 2020. Twenty-five percent of North Dakota's 2019 corn crop still is in the field as of March 30, according to National Agricultural Statistics Service, North Dakota.

It also stands to reason that soybean acres nationwide, including in North Dakota and Minnesota, will increase this year, Olson said. North Dakota farmers plan to seed to 1 million more acres of soybean acres than they did last year, and acreage in Minnesota is expected to be 500,000 higher than last year.


Farmers in the two states are concerned about wet field conditions this spring, and soybeans are a crop that can be planted later than most others, Olson noted.

The planting intentions report estimate of edible beans acres, which are expected to increase by 7% nationwide to 1.37 million, was good news to Tim Courneya, Northarvest Bean Growers Association's executive vice president.

Talk in the trade during the past few weeks had been that the increase could be as much as a 15% to 20% acreage increase, which likely would have resulted in production that had the potential to weigh on prices, Courneya said.

“The report is nowhere near bearish for dry beans,” he said.

The availability of quality seed for certain types of edible beans, including pintos, is one of the factors limiting the amount of acres farmers plant, Courneya said. Of course, that could change if more seed becomes available by the time planting rolls on around, he noted.

Because the March 31 report was based on surveys of farmers’ planting intentions in early March, their plans for other crops also could change before they get in the field, Olson said.

“The big question is ‘Will farmers follow through on that?’” said Olson, noting that whether they do, in part, will depend on the weather conditions during the next two months.

“What kind of spring planting season will we have?” Olson asked. “Is it going to be a challenging spring again or will it go relatively smoothly?”


Another factor that will determine what farmers plant will be how commodity markets respond to coronavirus, Olson said. He suggests that farmers take a wait-and-see attitude.

“I’m recommending to farmers not to make major changes in planting intentions, given what we’re seeing today,” he said.

Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: abailey@agweek.com or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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