JONESBORO -- Arkansas' cotton acres were expected to plummet, and rice acres to shrink slightly in 2013, but winter wheat and corn would expand, according to the "Prospective Plantings" report issued Thursday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The report indicated what producers' intentions for their farmland were when they were asked in early March.
"Given the below-normal temperatures and wet conditions, actual plantings may deviate from these intentions, particularly here in Arkansas," said Scott Stiles, extension economist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.
Because of its timing, there's lots of room for change between the time the report and the time the acres are planted.
"The key corn-producing states like Iowa, Illinois and Nebraska will generally start planting corn in early April," he said. "Nationally, about 50 percent of corn acreage is planted by May 5, with planting near completion in early June. Commodity price fluctuations over the coming weeks may also be a factor in planting decisions."
Corn is a key player in farming decisions this year, Stiles said.
"Given the downward price trend of corn that started last September and the weather conditions in March, it's becoming evident that farmers will plant less corn than previously thought," he said. "A comparison of economic returns today suggests that corn's net revenue premium over soybeans, rice and cotton has declined considerably over the past few months."
Following is a look at each commodity:
Corn was expected to reach 1 million acres in Arkansas in 2013, on the heels of 2012's record crop. If that estimate is realized, it would be the highest corn acreage in Arkansas since 1951. Last year, growers planted 710,000 acres.
Stiles said pre-report guesses on 2013 U.S. corn acreage ranged from 95.7 to 98.5 million with an average guess of 97.25 million. Thursday's report predicted 97.3 million acres nationwide, which would be the highest planted acreage since 1936, when 102 million acres of corn were planted.
Jason Kelley, extension wheat and feed grains agronomist for the U of A System Division of Agriculture, called the estimate "on the high side," and he expected corn acres to increase by 10 percent in 2013, putting the crop in the 800,000-acre range.
USDA predicted 270,000 cotton acres for Arkansas, a mere 45 percent of the 2012 crop. If that acreage does materialize, it will be a record low for the state. However, agronomists and economists warned that continued cold weather may change some farmers' minds this spring.
Around Christmas 2012, "the mood around cotton was pretty depressing," said Tom Barber, who served as cotton specialist before becoming an extension weed scientist. "Since that time, and especially in the last 30 days, corn prices have gone down and cotton has made a rebound. If they hadn't already booked corn, beans or sorghum, we may see a slight shift in acres back to cotton."
The National Cotton Council survey taken in late last year, pegged Arkansas' 2013 acres at 221,000, which would beat the previous record low of 320,000 acres in 1983.
In addition to the markets shaping the crop, the weather will also play into farmers' decisions. "This week last year, we were planting cotton," Barber said. "The weather is going to dictate what's going to happen. If it stays wet and cold, and we get out of a corn planting window, some of those acres may go to beans, and some could be cotton. "
The "Prospective Plantings" report put 2013 rice acres at 1.226 million, just slightly behind last year's 1.291 million acres.
"As far as a 'guesstimate' for prospective rice plantings, I'm fairly comfortable with the approximately 1.1 million acre estimate hovering around all winter," said Jarrod Hardke, extension rice agronomist. "However, the wet March, and continued wet weather into April, combined with fluctuating future prices, has some people now switching some of their acres from corn to rice, particularly on ground that is only marginal for corn production."
USDA expected 2.61 million acres of rice to be planted nationwide.
Sorghum's expected 170,000 acres is well up from last year's 140,000. Still, sorghum could see up to a 25 percent leap in acres in 2013, Kelley said, adding, "time will tell and weather can, and will, impact the final outcome."
Arkansas farmers were expected to grow 3.25 million acres of soybeans, up slightly from last year's 3.2 million. Nationwide, soybean acres were expected to contract slightly to 77.1 million acres, but the report added that figure was the fourth-highest on record.
Pre-report guesses on 2013 U.S. soybean acreage ranged from 77 to 79.7 million with an average guess of 78.39 million
Sweet potato growers were expected to plant 4,000 acres, same as last year. In 2012, a little over half that area -- 2,155 acres -- was grown in Cross County, said Extension Staff Chair Rick Wimberley, adding that, "sweet potatoes grown here are sold by Walmart and are also being exported to Canada and Europe." Nationwide, 122,300 acres of sweet potatoes were expected to be planted.
USDA's forecast of 1 million acres in winter wheat in Arkansas is well up from last year's 660,000 acres. It's just shy of the 1.07-million-acre record set in 2008.
The National Agricultural Statistics Service will provide a follow-up 2013 acreage estimate in its June 28 "Acreage" report.
"Assuming normal weather conditions and planting progress, this report will provide a better estimate of actual planted acres," Stiles said.