More acres of corn and cotton are expected in Alabama this year, and there’ll be fewer soybeans and peanuts planted, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Prospective Plantings report.
Corn will see the greatest increase — 31 percent — from 260,000 acres in 2015 to 340,000 in 2016. A modest 2-percent increase in cotton acreage is anticipated, from 315,000 acres last year to 320,000 this year, according to the report, which is released each spring.
Carla Hornady with the Alabama Farmers Federation said farmers consider numerous factors when deciding what crops to plant.
“The two biggest considerations farmers evaluate are commodity prices and crop rotation,” said Hornady, Federation Cotton, Soybean and Wheat & Feed Grains divisions director. “Rotating crops helps replenish soil nutrients and ensures healthier plants. Commodity prices are important because farmers need to know they can make a living off what they’re growing.”
Prices for corn, soybeans, cotton and wheat remain low. Hornady said farmers may have chosen corn over soybeans this year because they are more confident of a good corn yield, which could make up for the low prices.
Tuscaloosa County row crop farmer John E. Walker said the low prices have most farmers concerned about making a profit.
“This year, we’re going to plant more of the crop that we think we will lose the least amount of money on — it’s just one of those years,” Walker said. “Seed prices are high, but fertilizer and fuel prices are cheaper, so that will help.”
Walker grows corn, soybeans, cotton and wheat and also has a cow-calf operation. He said being diversified helps during rough years.
“A lot of years we have four or five ways to make money because of different crops and livestock,” he said. “That way, we don’t lose it all from one bad crop. It helps spread the risk.”
Alabama farmers are expected to plant 470,000 acres of soybeans, a 6-percent decrease from last year’s 500,000 acres.
For 32-year-old Colt Clemmons of Lauderdale County, deciding what to plant is more complicated.
Clemmons, chairman of the Federation’s State Soybean Committee, said his farm grows seed crops. He has to determine what farmers are going to want to plant next year. He and his father, Jim Clemmons, grow wheat, oats, rye, corn, soybeans and sorghum on the family farm near Killen. They partner with another father-son team, Greg and Jordan Hamner, in Clemmons & Hamner Seed, Inc.
“We’ll plant more soybeans this year because it looks like more farmers are going to double-crop the beans behind wheat,” he said. “But farming is a lot of guess work. There are factors you can’t control: prices, weather and the market. I’d say low commodity prices are the biggest challenge farmers face this year.”
Peanuts in Alabama will see the largest acreage drop this year at 15 percent.
Last year, state farmers planted 200,000 acres, and they are only expected to plant 170,000 this year. Higher production in recent years has created an oversupply.
The USDA report showed U.S. farmers expect to plant 93.6 million acres of corn, up 6 percent from last year, and 9.56 million acres of cotton, up 11 percent from 2015.
Nationally, peanut acreage is expected to decrease 9 percent to 1.47 million acres, and soybean acreage is expected to be essentially level at 82.2 million acres.