U.S. soy planting record possible, corn out of reach

By Reuters Staff
February 11, 2009

U.S. farmers could set a record for soybean plantings this year, topping 2008′s 75.7 million acres. The Agriculture Department will release its initial projection of seedings later this week. Some economists see plantings of 79 million acres (32.9 million ha) given that market prices and production costs currently favor soybeans.

Most expect corn plantings to lose ground as global recession takes the shine off demand from livestock and ethanol. But it would be daunting to break the U.S. corn plantings record even if the biofuels boom were re-ignited.

Corn seedings hit 93.5 million acres (37.8 million ha) in 2007 in a land rush to profit on ethanol. Although it was the largest total since 1943, it ranks 16th at USDA. The largest corn planting on record is a giant 113 million acres in 1932 — 21 percent larger than 2007. It may not give a full picture of corn-growing in America.

USDA began recording corn plantings in 1926. It has records of corn harvest area from 1866. From 1909-18, harvest area usually exceeded 100 million acres, so plantings had to be much larger, to allow for abandonment and other uses. In 1926, for instance, plantings were 99.7 million acres and harvest area was 83.3 million acres, a decline of 16 million acres. In recent years, the shrinkage from plantings to harvest area has been around 7.5 million acres, mostly for silage.

There are plenty of reasons for large corn plantings in the early 20th century. Corn was needed to feed the vast herds of horses and mules used as draft animals on the farm and in the city before gasoline power was adopted. Corn is easy to store. Livestock could glean cornfields after harvest. And, yields were a lot lower — 25.7 bushels an acre in 1926 for a crop of 2.14 billion bushels. In 2008, the corn crop was 12.1 billion bushels with a yield of 153.9 bushels an acre from 86 million acres.

–Charles Abbott

    Five largest soybean plantings
    (Records begin in 1924) 
    75.718 million acres, 2008 
    75.522 million acres, 2006 
    75.208 million acres, 2004 
    74.226 million acres, 2000 
    74.075 million acres, 2001 

   Five largest corn plantings 
    (Records begin in 1926) 
    113.025 million acres, 1932 
    109.830 million acres, 1933 
    109.364 million acres, 1931 
    103.915 million acres, 1930 
    101.959 million acres, 1936


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