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Published June 30, 2015, 03:56 PM

Bounce-back year for some crops, NASS report says

As expected, farmers this spring planted more durum, barley, flax and sunflowers — crops in which the Upper Midwest, particularly North Dakota, leads the nation, the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of USDA, says in its June 30 planted acreage report.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

It’s a bounce-back year for planted acreage of some important Upper Midwest crops, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

As expected, farmers this spring planted more durum, barley, flax and sunflowers — crops in which the Upper Midwest, particularly North Dakota, leads the nation, the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of USDA, says in its June 30 planted acreage report.

Nationwide, U.S. farmers planted 2 percent less corn, 1 percent less wheat and 2 percent more soybeans than in 2014, NASS says.

“The report confirms what the trade (grain industry) expected,” says Frayne Olson, crops economist/marketing specialist with the North Dakota State University Extension Service. “This sets the stage for the rest of the year.”

The 2014 downturn in crop prices caused Upper Midwest farmers to take a closer look at crops other than corn, spring wheat and soybeans, and that’s reflected in the estimated increase of small-market crops such as durum, barley and flax.

A bounceback in planted acreage of small-acreage crop also was expected because the unusually wet spring in 2014 hampered planting a year ago, ag officials say.

Durum increase

Durum, of which North Dakota is the nation’s dominant producer, stands out for its estimated increase in planted acreage, from 840,000 acres last year to 1.1 million acres in the state this year.

“We expected an increase. If anything, we thought it might have been a little bigger (than what NASS estimates),” says Ryan Davidson, a Tioga, N.D., farmer and first vice president of the U.S. Durum Growers Association.

Historically, North Dakota farmers have planted more than 1 million acres of durum annually. That number has fallen in recent years, but this year’s total will “get us back to what we’ve normally been,” he says.

Durum is a little riskier to grow than some other crops, so farmers usually want a higher price to grow it. That premium was high enough this winter and spring to cause more farmers to grow it, Olson says.

Farmers in Montana, which accounts for about a third of U.S. durum acreage, planted an estimated 630,000 acres of the crop, up from 435,000 acres last year.

More barley

Planted acres of barley nationwide soared to an estimated 2 million from 1.4 million acres a year ago.

North Dakota acreage rose to 900,000 from 620,000 a year ago, with Montana acreage increasing to 1.1 million from 920,000 a year ago. Production of the crop is concentrated in North Dakota and northeast Montana, where the climate favors it.

Relatively strong prices for barley, coupled with relatively weak prices for some other crops, encouraged North Dakota farmers to plant more of the crop this year, says Steve Edwardson, executive director of the state Barley Council.

More sunflowers and flax, too

U.S. sunflower acreage rose to estimated 1.8 million from 1.56 million last year. Leading the way were North Dakota’s estimated increase to 710,000 acres this year from 665,000 acres in 2014 and South Dakota’s estimated increase to 600,000 acres this year from 535,000 acres in 2014.

Dry conditions this spring encouraged some Upper Midwest farmers to plant sunflowers, which hold up relatively well in drought.

U.S. flax acreage this year is estimated at 420,000 acres, up from 311,000 a year ago. North Dakota’s estimated increase — to 390,000 acres this year from 275,000 a year ago — was responsible.

Major crops

The NASS report offers a mixed bag on acreage of wheat, corn and soybeans — the so-called major crops — in the Upper Midwest:

Corn — South Dakota farmers planted less, while North Dakota and Minnesota farmers planted the same amount.

Soybeans — Minnesota farmers planted more, South Dakota and North Dakota farmers planted less.

Spring wheat — North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota planted more, with Montana farmers planting less.

For an expanded look at the NASS report, see the July 6 print version of Agweek.

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