Cornbelt Update is a weekly summary of news from Extension, government, and other attributable sources, focused on marketing, farm management, and other issues that are of interest to Midwestern farm owners and operators.

March 31 is the release date for USDA’s Prospective Plantings Report. But economist Alan May at SD St. says it will not settle any bets, “While it is likely everyone is waiting to see what the planting intentions are of farmers, it is a report that may be viewed with a fair degree of caution because of the uncertainty of planting intentions due to heavy snowpack that has nearly disappeared in many areas this past week and the impact of wet soils from last fall. This year’s planting intentions report may be one of the more difficult to predict simply due to the weather conditions we have dealt with since last fall.” Read more of Alan May’s newsletter.

To put the USDA projections in perspective, Allendale’s estimate is 90.1 mil. acres for corn and 79.1 mil. acres for beans. Doane's surveyed estimate is 89 mil. acres for corn, and 79 mil. acres for beans. And Informa estimates 88.4 mil. acres of corn and 78.6 mil. acres of beans. The market has not been swayed by the wide range of estimates.

The March 31 USDA plantings and stocks reports will be available at 7:30 am CDT
1) Prospective Plantings Report
2) Quarterly Stocks Report

The Prospective Plantings Report is based on surveys from more than 80,000 farmers taken earlier this month. Typically, corn and wheat acreage is underestimated and bean acreage is overestimated says Dan O’Brien at KS St. However, corn acres are within 3.5% of the final acreage 90% of the time in the past 20 years, and soybean acres are within 3.6% of the final acreage 90 % of the time in the past 20 years, he says.

Corn acreage has been trending higher since 2003 says O’Brien, if you eliminate the 2007 jump to 93.5 mil. acres. He says industry surveys say the 2010 crop will fall between 88.4 and 92.5 mil. acres. The 90 mil. acre average is 4% more than 2009.

Soybean acreage has trended sideways to slightly higher since 2003, if you eliminate the 2007 drop to 64.7 mil. acres, says O’Brien. He says an industry survey predicts 77 to 80 mil. acres, and notes the 78.5 mil. average would be a 1% increase over 2009.

Planting decisions for many will depend on soil conditions, and O’Brien at KS St. says subsequent planting delays could lead to reductions in corn acreage, with a shift to soybeans. O’Brien says wet fields and flooding in ND and MN may affect spring wheat planting, and while those concerns are premature, they bear watching. Read more.

Soybean exports have been large but the party may be over. IL marketing specialist Darrel Good says 1.155 bil. bu. of US beans were exported in the first half of the marketing year, which would represent over 81% of the total exports for the year. But he says the seasonal decline will be especially large this year due to the small South American soybean crop last year, and the large crop currently being harvested.

Darrel Good says both the US domestic crush and exports are expected to decline during the year ahead, leading to some build-up in U.S. stocks. The magnitude of that build-up will depend on the size of the U.S. harvest this fall. Read more of his latest newsletter.

Are you signing up for the 2010 ACRE? Don’t forget that June 1 is the deadline. NE farm policy specialist Brad Lubben says NE farmers are not in line to get ACRE payments if they signed up last year, but he says the revenue protection is much greater than if they remained with the direct and counter-cyclical programs (DCP.) Read his Cornhusker Economics.

But what about ACRE for 2010? For NE, Lubben says, “If average or trend yields for 2010 are projected as of the sign-up deadline (instead of the record 2009 yields projected as of last August), then the relative risk protection provided by the 2010 ACRE program may actually look stronger than in 2009. The calculations show that ACRE definitely provides a substantially stronger safety net than the DCP, but it does not guarantee greater farm program payments in 2010, or over the remaining farm program years.”

What has happened to specialty grains? Kent McFarland of USDA’s Market News surveys buyers to determine premiums being offered for value enhanced grains.
1) Compared to 2009, the demand for all value enhanced grain continues to decline.
2) Terminal elevators are not contracting for non-GMO beans due to a lack of buyers
3) Some elevators will buy non-GMO soybeans on the spot market at harvest.
4) Contracts that some companies offer are so complex that no two contracts are alike.
5) Most contracts require on-farm storage with premiums paid for this storage.
6) Companies are looking for new growers, but are selective on who they contract with.
7) Some companies do not reveal prices because they vary from producer to producer.
8) Food Grade white corn contract premiums are 15 to 20 cents lower than 2009.
9) White corn: 15-35¢ over CBOT, with buyers call 40-50¢ over CBOT
10) Not enough high starch or hard endosperm corn contracts to establish a market trend.
11) Non-GMO corn premiums are 35 to 40¢ lower than 2009.
12) Non GMO corn: 20-35¢ over the cash market on buyers’ call contracts.
13) Low linolenic soybean prices were steady to 5¢ higher.
14) Low linolenic soybeans: 55-60¢ over the cash market on specific varieties.
15) No contracts on: waxy or food grade yellow corn, or edible or high protein beans.

The good news, says IL crop production specialist Emerson Nafziger, is that water is not standing in very many fields and has had time to drain. But he says soils remain at capacity for water holding and temperatures are not rising very quickly. However, he says saturated soils will warm up more quickly than dry soils. Untilled soils allow water get to the surface quicker through a wicking action and that means even though the top of the soil remains wet, Nafziger says it is drying out below the surface. He suggests waiting to work fields until several days after the first tractor in your area is spotted.

If your herbicide program is still in the formulation stages, IL weed specialist Aaron Hager suggests some new products.
1) Sharpen 2.85SC provides residual control of broadleaf weeds in corn and soybeans as a pre-plant option with PPO activity good for winter annual burndown and marestail.
2) OpTill 68WG combines Sharpen and Pursuit for use in soybeans and Clearfield corn. It can be applied before or after planting, but must be used prior to soybean emergence.
3) Integrity 5.57EC has the active ingredients in Sharpen and Outlook and controls annual broadleaf and weed grasses when used as a preplant or pre-emergent for corn.
4) Capreno 3.45SC combines the active ingredient in Laudis with new chemistry to help Laudis control fall panicum. It can be applied post-emerge to corn up to the V6 stage.
5) Prequel 45WDG is a premix of Resolve and Balance Pro and can be applied from 21 days before corn planting up to the time of emergence for winter annual burndown.
6) Callisto Xtra 3.7SC provides post emergent control of certain broadleaves in corn and is a tank mix partner with glyphosate for use on weeds becoming resistant to glyphosate.
7) MON63410 is an encapsulated form of acetochlor for post emergent applications for soybeans. It must be used as a pre-emergent control for grass and small weeds.

Some of the new herbicides may seem perfect solutions to your problem based on some of the magazine ads and commercials you have seen, but will they really perform? That question is answered by IL weed specialist Aaron Hager with his efficacy tables.
1) Efficacy for corn.
2) Efficacy for beans.

Winter annuals are healthy and summer annuals will soon appear, says MO weed specialist Kevin Bradley, and farmers remain hamstrung by wet fields. He says even no-tillers are troubled because applications of glyphosate and 2,4-D require a 7 day delay before planting which has caused many farmers to throw out their herbicide program.

Kevin Bradley says the waiting time between application and planting is reduced with the new BASF product Sharpen. He says in any normal year such a delay would be insignificant, but after two years of wet springs and delayed herbicide applications, such a small factor provides greater flexibility and could enhance profitability.

Sulfur is an important micronutrient for corn, but with cleaner smokestack emissions and cleaner fertilizers, the amount of sulfur in the soil may be diminishing over time. And IL soil fertility specialist Fabian Fernandez says he will be seeking volunteers for some sulfur research trials. While some fields of corn do not respond to applications of sulfur, Fernandez says some responses may be 50 bu. more than an untreated check.

Minimize production risks with “Bigger machinery, conservation tillage, wider tires, controlled traffic, precision agriculture, improved drainage and on-farm tools such as a grain dryer,” says OSU ag engineer Randall Reeder. He says having a grain dryer allows an earlier harvest, and he added, “In southern Illinois, thousands of acres of corn did not get harvested in 2009 because the region depends on weather for natural grain drying.”

Continuous no-till was also promoted by OSU’s Reeder as a risk management tool, “Eliminating primary and secondary tillage operations saves time and money." He said while no-till beans are common, fewer plant no-till corn believing the extra cost of tillage is a better risk than the possibility of lower yields associated with no-till production.”

Protein discounts killed the price for hard red spring wheat in 2009, so how do you avoid that problem in 2010? MN agronomists say, “Variety selection is the single most important step to limit the risk for grain protein discounts in HRSW.” They say blending varieties at planting is popular, and is the fourth leading “variety” in KS. But they say don’t blend to avoid protein discounts, but just choose the right varieties of seed.

How is your alfalfa stand? The first year should have more than 12 plants per square foot, more than 8 in the second year, and more than 5 in the third year. When plants are 4-6 in. tall, count the stems, and if there are less than 39 per square foot tear up the stand. IL agronomist Jim Morrison says make several counts across the field. Read more.

USDA’s Cattle on Feed Report counted 3% fewer head than a year ago, with feedlot placements down 1% and marketings up 2%. The national inventory was estimated at 10.9 mil. head. IA St. economists say, “Declining cattle supplies are helping to support cattle prices which have climbed more than $6/cwt since the end of January. Demand for beef has regained some footing in the past two months. A combination of consumer confidence and steady exports has helped support the full effect of declining supplies.”

Argentina will not be a beef competitor after the government has stopped issuing export licenses for beef in an effort to keep beef prices low. Unfortunately, it lead to a smaller cattle industry and to keep prices from rising, exports are being restricted.

For the third consecutive month, retail pork prices increased, and while Feb. prices averaged 3.9¢ more than Jan., they were 4.4¢ less than Feb. of 2009. MO livestock economist Glenn Grimes says domestic pork demand is weak, but the supply of pork is below 2009 levels. He says higher prices are from the middleman not the consumer.

China had been a major US pork customer, but the H1N1 flu killed that demand, and now vast herds of hogs are being raised in China with low market prices. Glenn Grimes says that means China will not be buying any US hogs very soon; however, they have reached an agreement to reopen the Chinese market to the US pork exporters.

When pumping out manure pits, be cautious of any foaming caused by methane that could explode and cause a flash fire. IL ag engineer Ted Funk warns about the danger, particularly if the pit is being agitated, which can increase the methane production. He says there were a number of explosions last spring releasing hydrogen sulfide.

To avoid flash fires when pumping out swine manure pits, implement this checklist:
1) Teach workers your emergency plan and have emergency phone numbers handy.
2) Liquid pits with foam should be pumped and agitated slowly and cautiously.
3) Prior to agitation, extinguish pilot lights and turn off all other electrical equipment.
4) Fully open all ventilation curtains or ventilation pivot doors.
5) Run ventilation fans at maximum speed.
6) Keep workers out of the building and post the building as unsafe for entry.
7) Start agitation process slowly, and keep pressurized liquid below the surface.
8) Continue maximum ventilation for 30 minutes after pumping has ended.

Source: Stu Ellis, University of Illinois