N.D. wheat, corn acres losing to soy, sunflower

Farmers in the top wheat state of North Dakota will not get all their intended wheat, corn and canola acres seeded this spring due to heavy rains and flooding, an executive of a U.S. wheat group said Friday.

“No question the increased intentions on wheat, corn and canola will not be met in North Dakota this year,” Jim Peterson of the North Dakota Wheat Commission told Reuters Global Ags Forum.

“Sunflowers and soybeans will be the biggest winners in North Dakota,” as alternative crops to plant given their shorter growing season, he added. “If a producer has cattle — oats or a hay crop could also work.”

Millers, exporters and livestock producers are all keeping a close on North Dakota given the big planting delays and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s optimistic outlook for a spike in crop seedings, especially corn now forecast up 500,000 acres in North Dakota from 2010.

The slow start to the growing season could ultimately mean a smaller-than-expected harvest in a year when the world is counting on a large U.S. harvest amid snug grain stocks.

“I don’t want to speculate on numbers since it varies by farmers but have heard as much as 10 to 15 per cent of the crop acres may not get planted statewide,” said Peterson, adding that last year roughly 20 million crop acres were seeded in North Dakota.

The state is known for its high-protein wheat, which is highly sought for its flour yields and to blend with lower-protein wheats to meet customer contracts. North Dakota also grows many specialty crops — barley, oats, field peas and sunflowers — and is a big corn and soybean producer.

Farmers like to have wheat and corn in the ground by mid-May in southern North Dakota but will plant into late May in a year like 2011, said Peterson, who’s based at Mandan, near Bismarck.

Further north it is not unusual to have some planting through June 10.

“Yield and quality risk are big concerns with late May and early June planted crops unless the growing season compensates and we have a late fall,” he said.

The deadline to decide whether to plant or take an insurance payout is May 31 in southern North Dakota and June 5 in the north.

Dry weather this week allowed farmers to plant wheat and corn but the pace lags, Peterson said. Typically 90 per cent of the spring wheat crop is seeded by late May.

Nationwide just 36 per cent was planted as of Sunday, leaving 9.2 million acres to go. North Dakota is the farthest behind, with just 15 percent spring wheat seeded.

“We may hit 25 to 30 per cent by next Monday, but that would be the most,” said Peterson.

“Producers will try their best to get as many acres planted, as possible. Potential returns in the market are certainly better than crop insurance — all we need is a good week to 10-day stretch to cover some ground.”

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