Low commodity prices have farmers looking at specialty crops, cutting corn acres
It’s the wheat that’s going through a major change in Kansas this year, particularly this year’s winter wheat crop.
“Wheat prices are extremely low. We’ve seen a lot of people who planted winter wheat graze it. They’re getting better value out of putting it into their cattle,” said Mykel Taylor, an associate professor of agricultural economics at Kansas State University.
According to Taylor, there’s still a lot of previously harvested wheat in storage, and the 2016 harvest might not even go on the market until 2018.
“It’s going to be interesting to figure out what we do with the grain we harvest in 2017. 2017 could end up being our worst year yet,” Taylor said.
On the opposite side are soybeans. Taylor said there has been a significant uptick in the acres of soybeans being planted, because “soybeans are one of the few crops that have a profitable outlook.”
She cautioned that there is a possibility that the market could end up with too many soybeans, which would drive their price down. Her advice to farmers is to forward contract at least part of the crop to be assured of a higher selling price.
“In general, cash prices are lower than where we’d like them to be. (Kansas is) not doing well on any other crop. Soybeans are the only bright spot. Whatever we bring in for a harvest is not going to be worth much,” she said. “This isn’t a Kansas problem; it’s pervasive. The prices we’re seeing right now, we saw 10 years ago, but the cost of production has been going up steadily.”
Kansas yielded $2.2 billion in corn production in 2016, $1.8 billion in soybeans, and $1.5 billion in wheat, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. Even though corn lead the state’s crop revenue last year, falling prices may change things in the future.
“Corn acres have started to fall off in last year or two, because the price has started to fall. It’s hard to tell what’s going to happen,” said Kraig Roozeboom, associate professor of agronomy at Kansas State University.
He expects some of the acreage formerly devoted to corn to switch over to crops such as dry beans and canola.
The other thing to watch at the moment is soil moisture. Kansas has seen a lot of rain in the past few weeks, and that concentrated burst may cause some planting delays. Across the state, the rainfall is variable, ranging from an inch to as much as 6 inches.
Ignacio Ciampitti, assistant professor of agronomy at Kansas State University, said the northeast and central parts of the state received enough rain to delay this year’s corn planting, but he doesn’t see that having an effect on the corn yield just yet.
When it comes to planting crops in Wyoming this year, the star of the field is dry edible beans. Not only is it the only crop that’s up in numbers this year, it’s jumped up by 18 percent, according to Rhonda Brandt, Wyoming state statistician for the USDA’s NASS.
The crops that appear to be taking the biggest hits, according to Brandt, are barley, dropping 13 percent; oats, down 10 percent; and winter wheat, down 7 percent.
“Normally there’s a few ups and downs, but it’s not just one crop. Where you have so many crops going down and only one going up, there’s something in the dry edible bean market that caught farmers’ attention,” Brandt said.
Wyoming’s signature crops of sugar beets and malting barley are contract crops, the latter with beer companies such as Coors or Budweiser.
“There are a number of growers that are becoming less excited about how (both) those crops have been managed in terms of the contracts being offered. That might actually explain the bump in beans,” said John Hewlett, farm/ranch management specialist for the University of Wyoming.
Because farmers can plant beans and corn with the same equipment, it opens up an option for farmers to switch from one to the other.
“We have a fairly diverse agriculture in Wyoming, so people do have a lot of options right up to the time of planting, until they see what the market looks like,” Hewlett said. “It’s a little different from some of the surrounding states. People are even exploring things like sunflowers and some of the other small grains that historically have been more experimental.”
Caitlin Youngquist, an extension educator in Washakie County, said she’s been getting inquiries about alternative crop options to the more traditional beets, barley, corn and alfalfa. The crops she’s heard more about lately include ancient grains such as emmer and spelt, flax and lentils and chickpeas in dryland areas.
She said that the state saw one of its wettest winters on record and hopes that the additional moisture reserves will be a positive thing for both the rangeland and agricultural production. ❖