Amid a slump in commodity markets, farmers report that they’re planning to cut back on corn and some other row crops this year. 

According to USDA’s annual prospective plantings report, farmers expect to seed 90 million acres of corn this year, down 5% from 2023. Soybean acreage is expected to rise 3% to 86.5 million, but plantings of wheat and cotton also are expected to be lower.  

Total area planted to principal crops, which include corn, sorghum, wheat, rice, soybeans, canola, peanuts, dry edible beans, potatoes, sugarbeets, is expected to fall from 319.6 million acres last year to 313.3 million in 2024. The report is based on a survey conducted the first two weeks in March.

Supplies up from 2023: Stocks of corn, soybeans and wheat are already significantly higher than they were a year ago. Corn stocks are up 13% from March 2023. Soybean stocks are 9% higher, and wheat supplies are up 16%.

Market reaction: Analysts had been expecting a higher corn estimate, so the release of USDA’s report pushed corn futures higher. At the end of trading Thursday, May corn was up about 15 cents per bushel, or 3.6%.

ESA rules reverse some changes made during Trump administration

New Endangered Species Act rules from the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service restore some, but not all, protections for endangered wildlife that had been abandoned by the Trump administration.

In regulations released Thursday, the agencies again extended most protections for species listed as “endangered” to those listed as “threatened.” The service also made clear that they cannot take into account economic impacts on businesses and landowners when deciding whether to list a species.

The listing determination does “not include a consideration of the economic effects,” FWS and NMFS said.

Environmental groups said they were mostly pleased with the new rules but said the services could have done more to shore up critical habitat designations. 

Study: Irrigated agriculture makes up over half of all Colorado River water use

Around 52% of all Colorado River water is used for irrigated agriculture, with just under half of that (46%) going to alfalfa and other cattle feed crops, according to a new study published Thursday in the journal Communications Earth & Environment.

The study — which analyzed Colorado River water use by sector, including indirect water consumption and use of water exported outside of the river’s boundary — also found that around 19% is "consumed through riparian and wetland vegetation evapotranspiration along river courses.”

Why is alfalfa so popular? Alfalfa can tolerate variable climate conditions, persists under greatly reduced irrigation during droughts, and is able “to recover production quickly after full irrigation is resumed, acting as a 'shock absorber' for agricultural production under unpredictable drought conditions,” the study’s authors wrote.

The crop has become controversial amid ongoing debates over water cutbacks, but Colorado River Board of California chair JB Hamby told attendees of the Stanford University Eccles Family Rural West Conference recently that its popularity comes from consumer demands for beef and dairy products. 

                 It’s easy to be “in the know” about what’s happening in Washington, D.C. Sign up for a FREE month of Agri-Pulse news! Simply click here.

"It’s certainly an easy thing to find a convenient villain, but I think the villain sometimes, if we’re looking for one, is ourselves and our own choices,” Hamby said. 

Lynch to serve as assistant USTR for South and Central Asia

Brendan Lynch will step into the role of Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for South and Central Asia, the office of the USTR announced Thursday.

Lynch was most recently Deputy Assistant USTR for the region and has been working at USTR for 11 years, including an early stint in the agency’s Office of Agricultural Affairs, according to a press release. He also previously worked as a trade analyst at the U.S. International Trade Commission.

In his new position, he will work on U.S. trade policy and strategies for negotiations with Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, according to the release.

BLM rule attempts to streamline broadband regulations  

The Bureau of Land Management is updating its regulations in an attempt to accelerate development of broadband infrastructure on public lands. 

A new rule released Thursday aims to “provide consistency” in how the agency reviews applications to locate communications facilities on federal land, and commits the agency to make decisions on applications within 270 days, BLM said.

BLM also said it would prioritize applications that target rural areas.