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Corn is up, but total crop plantings down


USDA: This year's planting of barley lowest on record


By DAVE WILKINS


Capital Press


A few years ago, grain prices were soaring and farmers couldn't get their hands on enough seed.


Things are a lot different now, and the amount of land devoted to field crops has dropped.


A report released this summer by USDA shows that U.S. farmers planted 6 million fewer acres of principal field crops this year than in 2008.


Producers planted a total of 319.3 million acres of field crops this year, down from 325 million acres two years ago.


The report includes 18 principal field crops, including wheat, corn, soybeans, sorghum, rice, cotton, potatoes and sugar beets.


While corn acres increased 1.6 percent this year, the uptick was more than offset by reductions in other crops.


Farmers planted an estimated 54.3 million acres of wheat, a reduction of 8 percent from last year. Barley producers seeded about 2.9 million acres this year, the lowest planting on record.


Total field crop plantings have closely tracked the commodity boom and bust cycle.


During the 1990s, total field crop plantings averaged about 327 million acres. By 2006, however, total plantings had dipped to 315.6 million acres.


The next two years -- 2007 and 2008 -- saw big increases as grain prices hit record highs. Total plantings grew to 320.4 million acres in 2007 and 325 million in 2008.


Corn acreage is now in a downward trend, despite a slight increase in plantings this year, Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, said in a press release.


The USDA report is further evidence that growth in corn-ethanol production is not leading to cropland expansion, Dinneen said.


Technology and dramatically increasing yields are allowing farmers to produce more crops on less land, he said.


Prime farm ground may not be under as much pressure from developers as during the housing boom, but it's still threatened, farmland preservationists insist.


According to a National Resources Inventory report, 4 million acres of active agricultural land (crop, pasture, range and land formerly enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program) were converted to developed uses between 2002 and 2007.


Cropland isn't being converted to subdivisions at the same rate it was a few years ago, but the threat to farmland hasn't disappeared, officials with the American Farmland Trust said.


The organization has called on USDA to conduct an updated assessment of the amount of agricultural land needed to meet the nation's future food, feed, fiber and energy needs.



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