High-value crops compete for farmers' attention, acreage
By SEAN ELLIS
Idaho's total wheat acres will be down an estimated 9 percent this year, while they will be up about 3 percent nationally.
Industry officials in Idaho view the decrease as a normal fluctuation in plantings and caution against reading too much into the drop, pointing out that Idaho farmers have a plethora of high-priced crops from which to choose.
A lot of Idaho's main crops are fetching high prices right now, said Idaho Grain Producers Association Executive Director Travis Jones, who views those choices as a good sign for Idaho's overall agricultural economy.
"Growers are seeing a strong market across the board on crops in Idaho," he said. "It's a good signal there is a robust agricultural economy in this state."
According to University of Idaho ag economists, seven of the state's largest farm commodities set records for cash receipts last year.
"Potato prices and sugar beet prices are both high, malting barley contracts are strong and alfalfa prices are quite strong; there are a number of high-priced options for farmers," said Blaine Jacobson, executive director of the Idaho Wheat Commission.
The USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service estimates all wheat acres planted in Idaho this season will total 1.34 million acres, a 9.2 percent drop from 2011. Winter wheat seedings of 780,000 acres were down 5 percent and spring wheat plantings are expected to be down 16 percent to 540,000 acres.
According to NASS, growers around the country expect to plant 55.9 million acres of wheat for the 2012 crop, a 3 percent increase from 2011.
In contrast to wheat plantings, barley seedings in Idaho are up 70,000 acres from last year, dry bean plantings will increase 37 percent, sugar beet acres are up 4 percent, lentil acreage is expected to rise 18 percent and dry edible pea acreage is forecast to be up 50 percent.
Estimates for potato acreage haven't been released yet and corn and hay acres are essentially unchanged from 2011.
"Those acres have to come from someplace," said University of Idaho agricultural economist Paul Patterson. "Those increases are probably coming out of wheat acres."
Jacobson said Idaho's wheat acre total needs to be put into perspective. Idaho's wheat acre totals the past two seasons were both 10-year highs, and this year's total is still 3 percent above the 10-year average of 1.292 million acres and well above the 2002 total of 1.15 million acres.
"It's still going to be a very good year in terms of total wheat acres," he said.