U.S. farmers facing soaring prices for fertilizer plan to reduce corn plantings by 3.9 million acres this year and instead seed a record 91 million acres of soybeans, according to USDA’s annual planting intentions survey.

Despite increasing prices for wheat as a result of the war in Ukraine, total acreage for all classes for wheat will rise by just 1% this year to 47.4 million acres, which would be the fifth smallest number on record, according to the Prospective Plantings report released Thursday. Farmers actually expect to trim plantings of spring wheat varieties to 11.2 million acres, down 2% from a year ago.

Prices for corn, soybeans and other crops are at historically high levels as well this year, giving farmers a range of options, but high input prices are clearly discouraging corn plantings.

According to the survey, farmers will plant 89.5 million acres of corn, down 4% from last year. Acreage is expected to be lower or unchanged from last year in 43 of 48 states covered by the survey.

Farmers in Iowa, traditionally the number-one corn producer, are expected to plant 12.6 million acres this year, down from 12.9 million in 2021, while increasing soybean acreage by 300,000 to 10.4 million in 2022. Corn acreage in number-two Illinois is expected to drop from 11 million last year to 10.7 million this year. 

The estimated soybean acreage nationally would be a 4% increase from last year’s 87.2 million acres.

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Farmers are expected to increase cotton acreage by 9% to 12.2 million acres this year.

Overall, farmers are expected to plant 317.4 million acres of principal crops, only a slight increase from last year’s 317.2 million acres. Principal crops include corn, sorghum, oats, barley, rye, winter wheat, spring wheat, rice, soybeans, peanuts, sunflower, cotton, dry edible beans, chickpeas, potatoes, sugarbeets, canola, and proso millet.

"Despite the market volatility, U.S. farmers indicate they are willing to step up to the challenge of record or near-record commodity production levels," economists with the American Farm Bureau Federation said in an analysis of the report. But the analysis said "there will be more pressure than ever for farmers to deliver on these intentions with increased yields and minimal weather disasters."

Separately, USDA reported that corn stocks totaled 7.85 billion bushels on March 1, a 2% increase from a year earlier. Soybean stocks were up 24% year over year to 1.93 billion bushels. 

An hour after the reports' release, May corn futures were up about 10 cents a bushel, while soybean futures were down 40 cents. 

The stock numbers were largely in line with trade expectations. “It was the acres that caused all this volatility in prices,” said Steve Freed, vice president of grain research for ADM Investor Services.

The "markets seem to be as surprised as I am about that large of a swing" from corn to soybean acreage, tweeted Scott Gerlt, staff economist for the American Soybean Association.

USDA surveyed 73,000 farmers for the planting intentions report. 

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