BLOOMINGTON — If it ever stops raining, farmers in Central Illinois will return to the fields, and when they do, some will favor a national trend to plant more soybeans than corn.
But not all, said Rodney Weinzierl, executive director of the Illinois Corn Marketing Board and Illinois Corn Growers Association, based in Bloomington.
“From a national standpoint, beans are catching up with corn, but from an Illinois perspective, farmers are still going to plant more corn than soybeans,” he said.
Based on a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture prospective plantings estimates, Illinois soybean acres of 10.6 million will be unchanged from last year, and the projected 11 million corn acres would be about 200,000 less than in 2017. Winter wheat acres in Illinois are estimated to be 60,000 more than last year’s 500,000.
“We did lose some corn acres, although the USDA doesn’t really say where those corn acres went,” said Weinzierl. “I don’t know if we planted more houses or what, but the USDA is kind of like that. It’s hard to predict and their estimates are based on surveys in late February and things could change.”
Like the weather, said Jenny Mennenga, a certified crop advisor and chairwoman of the Bloomington-based Illinois Soybean Association and Outreach Committee. She and her family raise soybeans, corn and beef in McLean County near LeRoy.
“Weather can be one of the bigger factors,” she said. “If we have a late spring, farmers then tend to plant more soybeans.”
But profitability is the primary reason for more soybeans in the ground than corn, she added.
Corn costs more to plant because of demands related to pest and disease control and fertilizer. Soybeans cost about 60 to 70 percent as much as corn to plant.
For Rob Albers, a farmer near Blue Mound in Macon County, trends don’t matter all that much.
“I always average about 50 percent soybeans and 50 percent corn and just rotate fields every year,” he said. “I have been doing that for the past several years and I am at the point I just don’t change it all very much because I have had success doing that.”
Nationally, the USDA predicts planted corn acres for 2018 at 88 million acres, down 2 percent of 2.14 million acres last year. Planted acreage is expected to be less nationwide. Soybeans were estimated at almost 89 million acres, almost a 1 percent drop from a year ago.
Since 2012, acres in the U.S. have been shifting out of corn and into soybeans, likely as a result of higher returns for soybeans than for corn, said Gary Schnitkey, a University of Illinois professor and farm management specialist.
“Values summarized from Illinois Farm Business Farm Management indicate that corn was more profitable in most years from 2001 to 2012,” he said. “From 2014 onwards, soybeans have been more profitable than corn.”
The bottom line, though, said Weinzierl, is about supply and demand.
“It all goes to what happens to production and what happens to demand. We have raised several really big corn crops on ... fewer acres. Just because we have fewer acres of corn planted, doesn’t mean we won’t have another big crop.”
An extra consideration this year is the developing trade war between the United States and China. In March, citing “national security,” President Donald Trump announced plans to impose a 25 percent tariff on imported steel and 10 percent tariff on imported aluminum. Agriculture leaders expected China to retaliate with tariffs of their own, and in measures announced this week, China targeted pork producers. On Wednesday, China proposed tariffs on soybeans as well.
The American Soybean Association, a lobbying group that represents 21,000 U.S. soybean producers, said China's proposed 25 percent tariff on soybeans would be "devastating" to U.S. farmers that lost an estimated $1.72 billion on Wednesday morning alone as futures tumbled. China is the largest consumer of U.S. soybeans, buying about one-third of all U.S. soybean production each year, the group says.
Association President John Heisdorffer, an Iowa farmer, is calling on the Trump administration to withdraw its proposed tariffs and meet with soybean farmers to discuss ways to improve competitiveness without resorting to tariffs.
“Farmers are always the ones caught in the middle when it comes to trade wars,” Mennenga said. “We just ask people to pray for us and let us go to work. We think this will be just a hiccup and in the end, everything will work out fine.”