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.”

Every nine out of 10 years, Iowa farmer Dave Sieck expects the Missouri River to stay in its banks near his farmland in Glenwood, Iowa, about 15 miles south of Council Bluffs. But lately, it’s been a rough run. This is the third year in a run some Sieck and Midwest farmers are facing the threat of flooding.

“It’s a never-ending battle, especially on the bigger rivers,” he said. “We plan on losing a crop once or twice every 10 years.”

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Roundup Ready technology contains in-plant tolerance to Roundup® agricultural herbicides, allowing growers to spray Roundup agricultural herbicides to kill the weeds without harming the crop.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned by talking with farmers, it’s that they have a great sense and appreciation of their farm’s history. And as a result, they have an even greater sense of how the present state of farming is better than it used to be.

Marvin Borg and Jeffrey Larson are two examples of that. Mention “weeds” and they both have stories that would make suburbanites happy that all they have to tend to is Saturday yard work.

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Elizabeth McKillip, daughter of Monsanto employee Brian McKillip, is raising her lamb, Speckles, for an FFA competition later this summer. Elizabeth is a current member of the Muscatine FFA Chapter, and Brian is an alum of the same chapter.

National FFA Week is upon us, and it’s a great time to celebrate the contributions that past members have made and current students are making. At Monsanto, we have hundreds of employees who are FFA alumni. This week, I spoke with four Monsanto employees about their FFA experiences and how the organization has had a lasting impact on their lives and careers.

Michele Grevie, who works at Monsanto’s Woodland facility and is an alumna of the Woodland High School FFA Chapter in Woodland, Calif., said she got involved in FFA because of her family’s ag background.

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Leland Uden poses with his daughter on his farm.

After washing his combine after harvest, Nebraska farmer Leland Uden takes time to pose for a picture with his daughter. Cleaning the combine is just one of the many chores Uden and many other farmers have to knock out during the fall and winter months.

During the cold days of February, Nebraska farmer Leland Uden sometimes recalls a joke he’s heard from his non-farming friends:

“I wish I could be a school teacher in the summer and a farmer in the winter.”

Uden’s winter to-do list proves at least the farmer part of that joke isn’t true. A farmer’s job doesn’t stop at harvest. Here’s what Uden has been up to since his crop was harvested in November:

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Chan Mazour (right, light blue shirt) talks to a group at the Gothenburg Learning Center in the summer of 2009.

For a site that was constructed to study water utilization in crops in a semi-arid environment, Monsanto’s Gothenburg Water Utilization Learning Center had a bit of a small problem during its inaugural year: too much rain.

In an area that typically receives 23 inches of rain per year, the site received approximately 30 inches between April 15 and September 30, said Gothenburg Site Lead Chan Mazour.  Then 30 inches of snow came in October that delayed corn drydown and ultimately harvest.

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Corn being harvested during the 2009 season.

Big notes of “Thanks” and “Congrats” are in order for U.S. farmers.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service released its “Crop Production 2009 Summary.” This report highlights the USDA’s best estimates of what farmers produced during the 2009 crop year across several crops, including Monsanto’s core crops of corn, soybeans and cotton. I’ve pulled out the top 10 production states by crop and highlighted their crop stats below.

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