February 20, 2004
By Lana Robinson
Nationwide, corn plantings are expected to be up in 2004. Global corn end stocks estimates released Jan. 16 caught traders by surprise, according to Reuters News Service. The news agency reported that U.S. farmers will plant anywhere from 300,000 to 1.5 million more acres of corn this spring compared with 2003, when they planted 78.7 million acres. But some analysts suggest that six-and-one-half year highs in U.S. soybean prices may lure farmers to plant soybeans instead. That doesn't hold true for Texas, however, which appears to be living up to its maverick reputation this planting season.
"Soybeans are an excellent rotation crop, but probably not any better than wheat, and most of the time here farmers would do well to break even," said Shane Goolsby, Hill County Extension agent. "To make soybeans work, it takes a superb year. We have had a few scattered fields in the past, but none this year that I know of. They're just not a good fit for us."
On Feb. 9, Goolsby predicted that corn acreage will bump up a little in Hill County, with perhaps a total of 56,000 to 57,000 acres going in this spring. Of that, 37,000 to 38,000 acres will be grain corn and the rest, silage. Weather, he said, is a factor, with the preferred corn planting window closing at the end of this month.
"We were very dry in November and December, but we're certainly caught up now on moisture. Weather permitting, we will have the corn all in by the end of February. If it doesn't dry up, and we're delayed a little, that might have an impact on acreage," he said.
Soybeans are not a viable alternative in San Patricio County due to iron chlorosis problems, said Extension agent Jeffrey Stapper. San Patricio County producers planted 6,200 acres of corn last year and Stapper thinks that will drop to 6,000. "Corn acres have been down last year and this year. I think they'll probably be down some more in 2004," Stapper reported Feb. 9. "They're tired of fighting aflatoxin. Seems like it's getting worse. A few years ago, we had excellent soil moisture. Farmers planted over 20,000 acres of corn, then it turned off dry and aflatoxin took over."
San Patricio County producers planted 99,000 acres of milo last year. Stapper believes that will decrease to about 90,000 and he expects cotton to rise from 126,000 acres in 2003 to as high as 135,000 to 140,000 acres this spring.
"That's due to a successful boll weevil eradication program here and the price of cotton. Grain prices are not good. We had some timely rains the last couple of years and had outstanding cotton crops. This past year, we set a record, 1,000 pounds of lint, on average, countywide. That's the best we've ever done. So there's more interest in cotton," he said. "We have typically had a 50-50 rotation between cotton and sorghumsometimes corn. More guys are looking at 75 cotton/25 sorghum. I think that could potentially be a problem if we get out of that ratio. We do have cotton root rot in this county, which is more of a problem on irrigated fields. Cotton behind cotton on drylandI hope that's not a trend that we see coming..."
Stapper said farmers are sitting real good as far as soil moisture after receiving a three-inch rain in January.
In neighboring Victoria County, Extension Agent Joe Janak has warned producers that planting corn after mid-March decreases yields, and it accelerates to six bushels for each week planted late to as much as 10 bushels. Thus, RMA dates can be a factor in farmers' crop planting decisions.
"Planting late is risky financially, so much so that the Risk Management Agency (RMA), the federal agency that administers the crop insurance program, has set dates as the final planting date for many crops they insure. But some of these dates were set years ago, even decades, and they are out of date with the new planting, varieties, methods and technology," Janak suggests.
The Victoria County Extension Crops Committee has formally proposed new dates to RMA, to replace current late planting dates. According to Janak, current and proposed planting dates, in that order, for each crop include: corn, April 15, April 1; cotton, May 15, May 1; soybeans, June 25, May 15; with grain sorghum remaining the same as the current date, April 15.
In mid-February, Mark Brown, Lubbock County Extension agent, said it will be cotton as usual in his county: "Our weather situation has been so dry. 2003 was the second driest year on record, and we had the driest July and August ever on record. No one was preparing land. It was like a powder keg. They were afraid to do anything...Then in the middle of January, we measured 1.9 inches of rain here in Lubbock. It fell beautifully. It was a general rain across most of the South Plains. Crop consultants say it contributed a foot and a half towards wetting the profile. We don't expect that in January, maybe a half inch or less. We've had none since, but we're in good enough shape that we can lift the beds up and prepare to plant with good subsoil. It's looking good."