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April 6, 2011

U.S. Acreage Mix Could Impact Yields in 2011

The overall acreage estimates for the 2011 U.S. corn and soybean crops came in about as expected, but the distribution of those acres could have an impact on the eventual yield potential of the crops.

Corn - The acreage numbers released by the USDA last week were not much of a surprise, but the distribution of the new corn acres raises a concern. Roughly speaking, of the four million additional corn acres estimated to be planted in the U.S. in 2011, approximately one third of the new corn acres will be in the states of North Dakota and South Dakota, one third will be in the heart of the Corn Belt, and the final one third will be in the peripheral production regions.

The yield potential for the additional corn acres in the heart of the Corn Belt would probably be above the national average, thus helping to increase the nationwide corn yield. The yield potential of the additional corn acres in the Dakotas and in the peripheral regions would probably be below the national average, thus helping to lower the nationwide corn yield.

The immediate concern in North Dakota and South Dakota is the cold and wet conditions that continue to delay the start of spring field work. Farmers in North Dakota are expected to plant an additional 450,000 acres of corn (total corn acres are 2,500,000) and 700,000 acres of spring wheat (total spring wheat acres are 7,100,000). The first major crop planted in the state is spring wheat followed by corn, but the current wet conditions in the state may make it difficult to get all these crops planted in a timely fashion. It is estimated that the farmers in South Dakota will plant an additional 850,000 acres of corn (total corn acres are 5,400,000). If farmers in either state are not able to plant all their intended spring wheat and corn acres, the unplanted acres could be converted to soybeans that can be planted later in the spring.

Another concern is that the typical corn yields in North Dakota and South Dakota are lower than the national average. The three year average corn yield in North Dakota is 126.6 bu/ac and in South Dakota its 139.5 bu/ac, both of which are lower than the nationwide corn for the last three years that averaged 157.1 bu/ac. Therefore, for the last three years the corn yields in North Dakota have averaged 33.5 bushels per acre less than the national average and in South Dakota they have averaged 17.5 bushels per acre less than the national average.

The last one third of the new corn acres are slated to be planted in states where the average corn yields are also below the national average such as Kansas (+250,000), Ohio (+250,000), Missouri (+150,000), Michigan (+100,000), etc.

As a result, it's prudent to be a little more conservative in estimating the nationwide corn yield since two thirds of the new corn acres will probably yield less than the national average. The nationwide corn yield which had been estimated at 161-163 bushels per acre has now been lowered 1 bu/ac to 160-162 bushels per acre.

Soybeans - The estimated acreage for the 2011 U.S. soybean crop is 800,000 acres less than last year and a closer examination of the acreage distribution indicates that it too could impact the eventual nationwide soybean yield. Farmers will plant 1,000,000 less soybean acres in high yielding states such as Iowa (-400,000), Kansas (-300,000), Ohio (-200,000), and Nebraska (-100,000), but they will plant 680,000 more soybean acres in relatively low yielding states such as North Dakota (+250,000), Missouri (+150,000), South Dakota (+100,000), Kentucky (+80,000), Arkansas (+60,000), and South Carolina (+45,000). This acreage shift on average should result in a slightly lower nationwide soybean yield.

The nationwide yield had been estimated at 43-44 bushels per acre, but now with the new distribution of the soybean acres, it has been lowered to 42-43 bushels per acre.