USDA's March Prospective Plantings report caught much of the trade off guard with estimates of lower than anticipated corn plantings for 2003/04. Meanwhile, U.S. farmers intend to plant the lowest soybean acreage since 1998 and slightly more cotton acres than last year.

According to surveys taken in late February and early March, U.S. corn growers intend to plant 79 million acres of corn for all purposes in 2003, virtually unchanged from 2002 but 4 percent above 2001. Expected acreage is up in the eastern Corn Belt as growers are switching back to corn after planting soybeans last year when persistent wet weather in the spring prevented them from seeding corn. However, all states in the Great Plains, except North Dakota, are decreasing their intended corn plantings as continued drought conditions are expected to persist into the 2003 crop year.

All cotton plantings for 2003 are expected to total 14.3 million acres, 2 percent above last year. Upland acreage is expected to total 14.1 million acres, a 2 percent increase from 2002. Producers in the Southeast and Arizona intend to decrease acreage from last year. All other cotton producing states intend to increase planted acreage, except for Oklahoma growers who intend to plant the same acreage as last year.

e-mail: erobinson@primediabusiness.com