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Drought hangovers & crop rotations

Now that much of the 2012 crop is in the bin, you may be turning your attention to how you'll balance corn and soybean acres next year. Will the drought hangover force you to change what you'll plant?

Continuous corn was mostly a bust in the areas hit hardest by this year's drought. And rotational corn took a bigger hit than did soybeans, which benefited in many areas from just enough late-summer rainfall to keep them closer to trend yield. So, will that lead to more soybean acres next year?

"Iowa and the Corn Belt will likely not plant as many acres of corn in 2013 as in 2012. Referring to what some call the drought hangover, drought gets in people’s minds and lingers for years," says Iowa State University (ISU) Extension farm management specialist Steve Johnson. "Many farmers want to get their crop rotations back in balance after planting more corn-on-corn in recent years. With relatively tight U.S. marketing year ending stocks for both corn and soybeans by August 2013, any problems in global production, such as South America weather, could push farmers to plant one crop over another by spring."

Corn's been the acreage leader in a few key Corn Belt states in the last few years, Johnson says. In the last five years, Iowa farmers have planted up to 59% of their acres to corn, for example. That number ranges between 53% and 56% nationwide. "Expect these percentages to decrease in 2013 with the likelihood of more soybean acres being planted," he adds.

But throw in local variables like cash-rent levels, crop insurance guarantees, and ever-improving corn genetics, and it's not as clear-cut a decision away from corn and toward more soybeans, even though the drought situation in South America has taken soybean futures to the moon.

That makes it important, Johnson says, to evaluate those local variables in your farm's context alone instead of relying only on macro-level factors when nailing down your 2013 rotation. And keep the drought conditions you've faced this year in the right context in making those decisions.

"Farmers need to evaluate their own individual circumstances," he says. "That includes everything, including land costs, crop rotation issues, and price expectations. I think the lack of soil moisture and the drought experience will weigh heavily on farmers' minds in making 2013 planting decisions."

Johnson recommends using a tool like ISU's online rotation profitability calculator to help with your 2013 planting decisions.


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