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Row crop technology tilting acreage balance away from wheat

Agriculture.com Staff 09/24/2008 @ 7:36am

What were once thought impossible yield goals are now well within reach for corn and soybean growers. And, it's not just in the traditional row crop areas. Farmers in wheat country are getting in on the action, too.

In the battle for acres, this technology curve could be moving more acres to corn and beans where wheat has traditionally been the mainstay, industry leaders say. Combine this with the escalating costs to raise wheat -- specifically when it comes to fertilizer -- and that could be a tough combination for the industry, not to mention the country's status as a leader in the world wheat trade.

"The rapid advance of 'stacked' transgenic traits is helping make corn and soybeans even more competitive with wheat production along the eastern and northern edges of the Great Plains wheat belt," U.S. Wheat Vice President and West Coast Office Director John Oades says.

According to a Kansas Wheat report, the cost to produce wheat is also rising quickly and could conceivably out-pace the rise in wheat prices. For example, USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS) calculates that the average cost to produce one metric ton of wheat was U.S. $254.61 ($6.93 per bushel) in 2007 and $268.57 ($7.31 per bushel) in 2008. The predicted average cost of production in 2009 is $297.60 per metric ton or $8.10 per bushel.

This could translate to a shift in the role of the U.S. in the world wheat trade, Oades says. It's a challenge the U.S. wheat industry must take on soon, he adds.

"This competitiveness of transgenic crops is a key reason why we expect to see continued erosion in wheat acreage in the U.S.," Oades says in a recent report. "It is also a fundamental reason why U.S. producer leaders are making the effort to discuss the development of transgenic wheat with their customers here at home and around the world."

What were once thought impossible yield goals are now well within reach for corn and soybean growers. And, it's not just in the traditional row crop areas. Farmers in wheat country are getting in on the action, too.

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