Minnesota, Wisconsin and three other states will grow soybeans on a record-high number of acres this year, according to a national report issued Tuesday. The estimates provide the first look at 2015's major crops based on farmer surveys and independent observations of what has been planted.
Corn remains king in Minnesota and has been planted on 8.2 million acres, the same as in 2014, according to the estimates by U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Soybeans are a close second in 2015 and are being grown on 7.7 million Minnesota acres, 350,000 acres more than last year and the most in state history. The previous record was 7.5 million acres of soybeans planted in 2003.
Noah Hultgren — who grows corn, sugar beets and other crops on his farm in Raymond near Willmar — said it's no surprise that some farmers have shifted slightly to soybeans.
"Growing corn isn't nearly as profitable as it was a few years ago," he said.
The "input" costs of land rent, seed and fertilizer have not dropped, he said, even though the price per bushel of corn has fallen off considerably.
"In real good [crop price] years, soybeans don't make you as much money, but in the poorer-price years you don't lose as much either," said Hultgren, who also is vice president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association.
Dave Pazdernik, director of research at Minnesota Soybean, agreed that the main reason more farmers are growing soybeans this year is because the crop seems more likely to provide profits.
Other reasons, he said, are that soybeans tend to grow better than corn in marginal areas where the soil is not as rich, and new soybean seeds introduced in recent years have made them easier to grow.
"Companies are developing varieties that do a lot better in northern Minnesota and North Dakota, so you're getting more yields up there and more farmers are planting them," Pazdernik said.
Minnesota ranks third in the nation for soybean production, behind Illinois and Iowa.
The USDA report estimated that nationally corn will be planted on 88.9 million acres, down 2 percent from last year. Soybean acreage will be at a record high of 85.1 million acres, up 2 percent from 2014.
It also estimated that sugar beet acreage in Minnesota is 430,000 acres, down 10,000 from 2014. Spring wheat planted in the state is estimated at 1.65 million acres, up 430,000 acres from last year and the largest planting since 1.85 million acres in 2008.
Michael Swanson, chief agricultural economist for Wells Fargo & Co., said the main focus for markets will be not the relatively minor changes in acreage as much as the condition of the crops. Weather affects crop growth every year, he said, but 2015 has been unusual because there has been too much water in several areas.
Excessive rain in May and June saturated some parts of the Midwest, and that has slowed planting, destroyed or stunted crops, and increased the risk of plant diseases.
Swanson said there's plenty of variable weather ahead that will determine what kind of yields — and prices — the major crops will bring in 2015.
"Every trader knows you make and lose the crop at least three times every growing season," he said.