Pennsylvania farmers buck trend, will plant more corn in 2008

University Park, Pa. — Farmers across the country are expected to plant 8 percent fewer acres in corn this year than last, but Pennsylvania farmers will plant 1 percent more corn than last year, according to a crops expert in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

Nationwide, corn growers intend to plant 86 million acres of corn for all purposes in 2008, notes Greg Roth, professor of agronomy. Despite the decrease, corn acreage will remain at a historically high level as the corn price outlook remains strong, due in part to the continued expansion in ethanol production. Last year's corn acreage was the highest since 1944.

Keystone State farmers intend to plant 1.43 million acres of corn this year, compared to 1.41 million acres in 2007.

Pennsylvania is a corn-deficit state that is home to extensive animal agriculture, points out Roth. "We feed a lot of animals, and farmers here are especially sensitive to the price of corn because they import a significant amount," he says. "So if they have a chance to offset some of those higher prices by growing their own corn, they are going to do that."

Another factor in the corn-growing equation, Roth explains, is that Midwest farmers are facing high nitrogen-fertilizer costs because they depend on the fertilizer to grow corn. "But in Pennsylvania, we have the opportunity to reduce some of these production costs because we can offset some fertilizer costs with animal manure," he says. "We are also seeing more manure being exported to grain farms and the value of that manure has grown in accordance with its nutrient value."

Growing corn in rotation with alfalfa and other soil-nitrogen-fixing legumes also reduces the need for fertilizer in our state, according to Roth. "In many of our extension programs this winter, tactics for improving the effectiveness of fertilizer use and controlling costs in corn production was a hot topic."

Agricultural experts expect the acreage planted in virtually all crops to be increased in Pennsylvania this year, Roth notes. "That's a reflection of higher commodity prices across the board," he explains. "I think we have entered into a new era in terms of crop prices because the dollar is weakening, the cost of production is up because of higher prices of fertilizer and fuel, the export demand is higher, and in the case of soybeans and corn, there are higher demands from the biofuel industry. Analysts also report that there has been a lot more investment in commodity markets by speculators."

Higher commodity prices have one positive side, according to Roth. The price of corn has been low for many years, which reduced the impetus for planting, he explains. Commodity prices were so low that farmers had to be subsidized to grow them, and that created low world prices that discouraged farmers from growing the commodities in other countries.

Traditionally in Pennsylvania, economic returns for the production of commodity crops have been relatively low, Roth notes. "This year, there is potential for higher returns to crop production, but it is associated with higher risk due to the increased input costs and uncertainty about the potential price at harvest," he says.

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Last Updated March 19, 2009