Published on 04/05/07

Georgia farmers plan to plant more corn, soybeans

By Brad Haire
University of Georgia

Georgia farmers plan to plant less peanuts and cotton and more corn and soybeans this year, according to survey results released last week.

The survey, taken March 1 and released March 30 by the Georgia Agricultural Statistics Service, had no real surprises. It just confirmed what many industry analysts predicted: farmers will follow demand and prices.

"These survey results show that farmers have some flexibility in what they can grow and can take advantage of market opportunities," said Don Shurley, a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension agricultural economist.

Corn acreage this year will double last year's at half a million acres. Peanuts will be planted 500,000 acres, too, but will be down 14 percent from last year.

The corn increase is due to the higher demand for ethanol, which can be made from corn. Corn prices have been high, ranging from $3.50 to $4.50 per bushel.

Early peanut contracts were $50 more this year, or around $415 per ton. But they weren't high enough to woo Georgia farmers into maintaining last year's acres, said UGA Extension economist Nathan Smith. Total U.S. peanut acres will be 1.2 million, down 4 percent.

If U.S. farmers make average yields, he said, they'll produce 1.7 million tons of peanuts in 2007, or 300,000 tons less than the annual U.S. consumption. This cut may knock down a 720,000-ton surplus. The industry likes a surplus from year to year, but not this big. The decrease may bring the market to a healthier level.

Soybean planting is expected to increase by 60 percent to 250,000 acres in Georgia this year, due to higher prices.

Georgia farmers plan to plant 1.15 million cotton acres this year, about 250,000 acres less than last. Cotton acres are expected to be down 20 percent across the country.

This may benefit the U.S. cotton industry in the long run, Shurley said, because the export market and prices are down. "The market is signaling that it needs less cotton.”

Farmers will start planting peanuts, cotton and soybeans later this month and in early May. And they'll do it in a mild to moderate drought, said to David Stooksbury, the state climatologist and a professor of engineering and atmospheric sciences in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Most Georgia corn is already planted and facing the unusually dry weather. But it isn't hurting too badly yet, said UGA Extension corn agronomist Dewey Lee.

Small corn plants now use only a 10th of an inch of water per acre per day. But as they grow, they'll demand more. In late May and early June, the crop will need about a third of an inch per acre per day.

Of the Georgia corn crop, 65 percent to 70 percent will be planted in fields with irrigation, he said.

Putting out an inch of water per acre, Smith said, costs farmers $10 per acre, an expense they try to avoid but sometimes have to stomach to get good yields in dry weather.

Dry, wet or just right, the weather is going to be the weather, said Rex Bulloch, 58, a farmer in Wilcox County. There isn't much anyone can do about it.

"(A dry spring) is nothing we haven't had to deal with before," he said. "I'll take whatever the man upstairs sends to me."

According to the survey, Georgia tobacco will be planted on 19,000 acres, or 2,000 more than last year. Wheat will take up 400,000 acres, or 170,000 more than last year. And hay will be on 680,000 acres, about 30,000 more than last.

Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.