By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Versailles farmer Len Wiese planned to put anhydrous on a corn field Thursday as he continued with spring planting preparations.
"We're getting there," Wiese said. "I wish everything was really ready to go. We're close, but not quite."
When the weather cooperates, possibly by early next week without any rain, he'll get busy planting. But like most Illinois farmers, he'll put in more soybeans than he did last year.
"We're probably going to increase soybeans by 10 percent," Wiese said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said last week that Illinois growers expect to sow 12.2 million acres of corn, down from 12.8 million in 2012. Only Iowa, the nation's top corn producer, planned to plant more corn this spring.
The amount of soybeans to be planted in the state is expected to rise 4 percent to 9.4 million acres, from roughly 9 million last year, when the nation's worst drought in decades punished crops and livestock throughout the nation's heartland and South.
Corn acreage in Missouri is expected to be 3.4 million acres, 200,000 acres below last year, but still the third-most corn acres planted in the last 40 years. Soybean acres in Missouri are estimated at 5.3 million acres, 100,000 below last year's 5.4 million.
"Locally, we are probably going to see a few less corn acres," said Mike Roegge, University of Illinois Extension educator, local food systems and small farms. "Over the last couple years, we've seen corn on corn acres increase on better-producing soil because corn has been a better profit crop to grow as opposed to soybeans."
But in poor crop years, like both 2011 and 2012, corn on corn acres suffer more than acres where corn is planted after soybeans.
Wiese said the corn crop's performance in last year's drought pushed him to plant more beans this year.
"We were probably 80 percent corn, 20 percent beans, but we'll be 70 percent corn, 30 percent beans," Wiese said.
"Some guys are thinking maybe they won't grow so much corn and will ease out of corn on corn," Roegge said. "We'll see a few more acres of soybeans in the area, a small percentage."
Timewell farmer Jon Boylen plans to stick with a rotation of two-thirds corn and one-third beans in his fields.
"We are anxious to get started," Boylen said. "Although soil conditions are getting drier, we will not start until soil temperatures are at least 50 degrees with a good weather forecast."
This time last year, corn planting across the area was at least halfway done.
Wiese started planting on March 14 and had corn up by March 21. "Last year spoiled us," he said, but this year "is seeming more like a normal, typical year."
Nationwide, farmers expect to plant more corn -- 97.3 million acres, the most since 1936 and up from last year's 97.2 million acres. The report said U.S. farmers plan to plant 77.1 million acres in soybeans, down slightly from last year's 77.2 million acres.
The change in corn acres come in states where acreage devoted to cotton and other crops is being switched to corn.
"Some of those other crops don't have the economic opportunities corn does," Roegge said. "Taking acres from those crops to corn potentially increases the amount of corn available which can impact us by the prices received."
Prices already tumbled thanks to the planting report, with corn down around 70 cents a bushel and beans down $1.
"We've still got a long ways to go between now and October when we start harvesting," Roegge said. "We'll still have opportunities to market grain at better prices than we have right now."
Weather always plays a key role in price, especially as the Midwest continues to recover from last year's dry conditions.
Drought maps from USDA show two-thirds of Iowa and most of Nebraska and the Dakotas still in drought conditions. "We're not out of the woods yet in the Corn Belt as far as alleviating the lack of moisture," Roegge said.
"We've got more moisture going into the year than we did last year," Wiese said. "If it turns off dry, we'll be better than we were last year."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.