Co-authored by Janice Person and Nick Weber

Cotton emerging from the soil

The unofficial start of planting season got under way today, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its 2010 Prospective Plantings report. It’s an annual report that the agency issues each March 31 as its best estimates on what farmers may plant for corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton and many other crops.

The quick highlights:

  • A record 78.1 million acres of soybeans
  • 88.8 million acres of corn (second-highest on record)
  • 53.8 million acres of wheat (lowest since 1970)
  • 10.5 million acres of cotton (15 percent higher than 2009)

According to Kansas farmer Darin Grimm, the Plantings report is one of the couple big reports that he follows.

“I pay a fair amount of attention,” said Grimm. “It moves the market. We look to see what affect it will have on prices, so we pay a fair amount of attention. In this case, the numbers are about as expected.”

Illinois farmer Doug Martin said the report gets the year going for farmers.

“I have always had my doubts about the USDA reports because I have always wondered about their accuracy,” he said. “However, it does set a benchmark for the year. I was able to attend the March report a few years ago in (Washington) D.C., and I think that they do their best to get an accurate number.”

The report isn’t swaying Grimm and Martin to change acreage intentions, as they expect their corn and soybean acreage mix to remain the same. The past couple days’ weather has kicked things into high gear on the Grimm farm. After a wet fall and snowy winter, the 70-degree days are just what the Midwest and South needed. Grimm said fall fieldwork has been pushed back to this spring.

“In my area, typically, we will have all our anhydrous (fertilizer) on corn acres in the fall and also do fall herbicide spraying,” he said. “Once we have those operations done, we’re committed to planting corn on those acres.”

That means the Kansas farmers could switch some acres to soybeans, which is why the report is an estimate.

“Right now, there’s a fair amount of nitrogen that needs to go on corn acres, which is unusual for us. It was so wet all fall and winter that we simply didn’t get it down. So if it stays wet, those acres can go to beans more easily.”

Down south, planting is underway from South Texas to South Carolina.  Texas was singled out as the state with the greatest move to cotton, accounting for an extra 600,000 acres of the 10.5 million forecast for 2010. The increase in cotton acres was something farmers have been discussing and optimistic about for months, according to Barry Evans who farms in Kress, Texas on the High Plains.

“Here north of Lubbock we’re cotton & grain so we can move easily how much we plant of cotton, corn and sorghum. I’ll be planting more cotton and expect that as you move north toward Amarillo there will be a greater movement into cotton,” Evans said. The winter provided good moisture on the High Plains and good weather now has lots of people doing field work. He adds that he looks forward to seeing more producers next week at the Plains Cotton Growers annual meeting.

In South Carolina, Thad Wimberly has been busy planting corn in a strip tillage system.  Early spring rains have delayed him a bit but this week has been productive.  “As far as out look we will take 200 acres out of corn and put in more cotton.”

This increase in cotton acres is something most states expect this spring according to the USDA, estimating that only Kansas, Louisiana and Arkansas will see drops.

There’s one common theme among all farmers on March 31 though: excitement for planting.

“We are really excited,” Martin said. “After the last two wet springs. we would like to ‘enjoy’ this planting season. Although with all of last fall’s work still left to do, it will probably be chaotic, unless it quits raining until the middle of May. We are hoping to get some field work started by the weekend, and if we miss Saturday’s rain we will be ready to go full steam ahead.”

“It’s always exciting,” Grimm said. “It’s easy to be optimistic in the spring.”

Planting takes specialized equipment on a small scale for research and development efforts.

Friday afternoon I was trying to reach a coworker.  I looked on the office instant messaging system and a rush came over me – there was an out of office message saying he was planting just outside of Corpus Christi, Texas. Immediate reaction? Pick up the phone and call to see how it’s going!

It’s a high tech version of what has happened for generations. It used to be conversations at the general store or maybe the church social.  It passed from neighbor to neighbor and town to town.  Now, the news gets out quickly & electronically – and for those of us on or connected to the farm, hearing it creates a rush of excitement.  Optimism strikes.

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Several years ago, I had the opportunity to host a group of guests from Greece for a tour of the U.S.  The group was made up of cotton ginners, textile mill personnel, a few agronomists and others in the Greek cotton industry.  I ended up being the person who accompanied the group throughout their tour.  We started by giving them a view of our facilities in the Mississippi Delta and then headed to Lubbock, TX for see the largest cotton patch & learn all sorts of things!  On the way back to the Delta from Lubbock, we stopped in Dumas, Arkansas to see a cotton gin.

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Janice's nephew tries out a cotton picker for size in 2002. He’s grow a lot since then in both size & awareness in agriculture.

This past weekend was the big farm show here in my backyard, Memphis, TN.  This one is usually abbreviated as the Gin Show though and that tends to get unique looks or comments from folks.  And next month there’s a gin show in Texas.  And yes, with my sense of humor, I’ve been known to joke about being on point for the limes (far easier to carry in a backpack than tonic would be!)  But I love that shows like this one give me a chance to talk to my non-farm connected friends and family about agriculture.

So what is a gin show?  It’s a cotton thing.  And yes, it relates to the cotton gin, not the alcohol.

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In 2009 there was a lot of buzz around trans-fat free foods when places like New York City passed regulations that pushed the use of healthier oils.  It may be hard to imagine, but that decision affected farmers like John Buck, who farms in Ohio in the small town of New Bloomington.  Although trans-fat foods may be the rage in big cities, it is on farms that the healthier products start.

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CEO Hugh Grant addresses an audience at Monsanto's recent shareholder meeting.

It’s not the first annual shareholder meeting I’ve ever been to and it won’t be the last.  This one was a little bit different for me – it was the first one I’d been to since joining Monsanto.

My previous experiences with annual shareholder meetings at a previous job were fairly formulaic.  There are specific things that are required and a specific process through which that needs to be done.  Votes to be tallied and input to be received.  They were dry and I was hoping this one would be better.

I asked my colleague who was organizing the meeting if she needed any volunteer help.  Knowing all the cool jobs were likely taken, I braced myself for something like running between buildings.  Somehow other people’s schedules had changed and I got the chance to help host some of our farmer customers, including two brothers I’ve known for years!  Score!

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It’s hard to explain the Beltwide Cotton Conferences.  I know because I’ve tried for years.  And the recent post to the company blog provided some insight on my personal connection to the event for almost 20 years! But I’ve gotten a few questions sent to me through email, tweets and Facebook posts so I want to take a few minutes on this wireless-free flight (yes, that bummed me out) and capture a few things while I’m high above what could be New Mexico, on my way to American Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting.

What makes Beltwide different from the other trade shows?  Well, while that’s the question I usually get, I point out the name doesn’t include “tradeshow”!  There is a trade show, but wow, there’s much more!  Let’s start with the deconstruction of the name:

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