SUTTER, Ill. -- Corn has been dethroned as the king of crops as farmers report they intend to plant more soybeans than corn for the first time in 35 years.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says in its annual prospective planting report released Thursday that farmers intend to plant 89 million acres in soybeans and 88 million acres in corn -- and the primary reason is profitability.
"There's more potential to make a profit on soybeans than on corn at the current prices. That's what's driving it," said Dale Asher, a Sutter farmer and District 8 director for the Illinois Soybean Association.
"It just comes down to dollars and cents," Adams County Farm Bureau Manager Shawn Valter said. "The bean market looks a little better heading into planting season, and people are looking at that. But I haven't talked to anybody specifically that's really ramping up their beans over corn."
Valter said many area farmers follow a corn-bean crop rotation.
"If they planted corn one year, they'll plant beans the next year. It's good for soil and food for weed pressure," Valter said. "What they planted last year kind of dictates what they'll plant this year."
Asher plans to stick with his farming operation's usual 50-50 split between corn and soybeans. "I do not intend to switch acres to soybeans," Asher said. "I generally rotate. There's an economic advantage to rotation."
Other farmers statewide may be more likely to shift to more bean acreage.
"In the highest productive part of the state, there's been more continuous corn in recent years," Asher said. "I presume that some of the continuous corn comes out and goes into soybeans."
Soybeans cost about 60 to 70 percent as much as corn to plant, said Chad Hart, an agriculture economist at Iowa State University. Corn costs are higher because of required demands for pest and disease control and fertilizer.
Narrow profitability explains why total acreage planted for all major U.S. crops will fall by about 1 million acres this year. Much of the land will likely be removed from production and used for pasture or remain unplanted, Hart said.
Corn acres nationally will be 2 percent lower, about 2 million acres, and soybeans acres will be down 1 percent, about 1 million acres. Some of the previous corn and soybean land will be planted in wheat, which is growing by 3 percent in acreage planted, and cotton, which will be up 7 percent this year or about 858,000 acres.
But Asher emphasized planting intentions reported now still can change based on what the markets do in the coming weeks and on the weather.
"It's all about the weather now," he said. "If the weather changes, and we're able to plant early, then I would guess that a farmer could lean a little bit more toward corn."
Market prices also play a key role.
"If the bean market looks good and more shift to beans, that means less corn," Valter said. "At some point in time there will be higher demand for corn if there's less corn out there."
The only year that soybean acres beat corn in recent memory was 1983, when the government pushed farmers to plant fewer acres to boost prices in the midst of the nation's worst farm crisis.
Iowa is the top corn-producing state, followed by Illinois, Nebraska and Minnesota. Top soybean states are Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and North Dakota.
Farmers in Iowa expect to plant 13.3 million acres of corn, the same as last year. Illinois, Nebraska and Minnesota all plan on fewer corn acres. Illinois farmers will plant 10.6 million acres of soybeans, the same as last year.
Some information for this story was provided by the Associated Press.