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5/7/2018 4:22:00 PM
Spreading Soybeans: 2018 crop shaping up to be state's largest on record
Now that winter has finally left the area, preparing fields for spring planting is underway all across the region like this field along Ind. 17 north of Logansport. Staff photo by Fran Ruchalski
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Now that winter has finally left the area, preparing fields for spring planting is underway all across the region like this field along Ind. 17 north of Logansport. Staff photo by Fran Ruchalski

Mitchell Kirk, Pharos-Tribune Staff Writer

Soybean acreage across Indiana may be the state's largest on record, a federal agency estimates, and some Cass County farmers are contributing to that boost.

The market has been favoring soybeans over corn, but local farmers say corn is making a comeback and an area ethanol plant's demand strengthens the crop's prices locally.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported in March that producers surveyed across the country plan to plant about 89 million acres of soybeans this year, down 1 percent from last year. 

Plans for soybean acreage dropped or did not change in 20 of the 31 estimating states. The biggest boost is expected in Indiana with 6.1 million acres, 150,000 more than last year. If realized, it'll be the state's largest planted area of soybeans on record. The same goes for Kentucky, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Corn growers plan to plant 88 million acres this year, down 2 percent from 2017. If realized, it'll be the lowest acreage since 2015. Corn is expected to decrease or not change in 33 of the 48 states estimated.

Jeff Berlet, who farms in southern Cass County, said his operation's acreage usually consists of two-thirds corn and one-third soybeans. But this year he's planting a little more soybeans than corn because of the extra expense to plant corn and bean prices being more attractive than those in the maize market.

Berlet said corn prices have been rallying lately, however, possibly aided by the soybean surge.

The USDA reported last month that corn in Indiana sold in March at $3.72 per bushel, an increase of 12 cents from February but a decrease of a half-cent from last year. Soybeans in the state went for $10.10 per bushel, a boost of 33 cents from February and a 13-cent hike from 2017.

John Webber Sr., who grows a specialty crop of corn near Lucerne, said corn prices have been the way they are lately because there's an abundance of the grain in the country. Good weather, productive hybrids and genetics that shrug off drought and insects are driving up yields per acre, he added.

The tight margins for corn farmers the surplus creates have a trickling effect, Webber went on to say. Less net income for farmers mean they don't buy as much machinery and other tools of their trade. The effect can be especially significant in agriculture-heavy places like Cass County, he said.

Karl Eshelman, who farms near Walton, said he's planting a little more soybeans than corn this year. While he acknowledged the recent state of corn prices, he said Andersons Clymers Ethanol helps keep local corn prices strong.

Eshelman said his crops are usually half corn, half soybeans but this year he will plant maybe 5 to 10 percent more soybeans because of the more appealing price. 

With this year's cooler spring and because corn requires more heat to reach maturity, Eshelman said farmers in the northern part of the country are likely planting more soybeans than corn.

Another factor to keep in mind, Eshelman said, are corn-growing farmers who also raise livestock because they have to grow corn regardless of the market. Those without livestock are more receptive to soybean prices.

Kevin Wilson, who farms in southern Cass County, said he's planting slightly more soybean acreage than corn this year but only because crop rotation calls for it.

China continues to consider a tariff on U.S. soybeans. Wilson called it a "big question mark" and "moving target" as far as how it would impact U.S. agriculture, adding he's "cautiously concerned."

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