U.S. grain farmers this spring intend to plant the nation's highest corn acreage since 1937, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report.

According to the Prospective Plantings Report by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, the nation's growers indicated they would plant 95.9 million acres of corn, up more than 4 percent, or nearly 4 million acres, from 2011.

They also expected to plant only 73.9 million acres of soybeans, down 1.4 percent, or more than 1 million acres, from 2011.

The projections are based on an early March survey of growers nationwide.

"It's obviously important to see where producers are at right here at the beginning of the planting season," said Chris Hurt, Purdue Extension agricultural economist. "They are saying they're going to be very heavy in corn planting here in the Midwest, so overall, there are big numbers on corn acreage but low acreage intentions on soybeans."

In Indiana, producers said they would increase corn acres by 200,000 acres but reduce soybean acreage by the same amount. Ohio growers said they would increase corn acres even more substantially with a 400,000-acre jump. Growers expected Ohio soybean acres to stay the same.

"The increase in Indiana corn acreage is going to come entirely out of soybean acreage," said Corinne Alexander, Purdue Extension agricultural economist. "Ohio's soybean acres are flat, so the largest portion of that corn acreage increase is going to come from a reduction in wheat acres. What doesn't come from wheat acres, we expect largely to come from 2011's prevented planting acres and from conservation land."

In addition to the plantings report, USDA-NASS also released its March Grain Stocks report. The report shows the availability of grain stocks in the U.S. as of March 1.

The U.S. has about 6 billion bushels of corn stocks, about 140 million bushels lower than what trade markets expected, according to the report. Soybean stocks came in at 1.372 billion bushels, up 11 million bushels from expectations.

"It's no surprise to anyone that these numbers are down substantially from where they were a year ago," Alexander said. "Where the surprises come in is that they're down even more than expected. Because of the difference, we're expecting this to be pretty bullish for old crop corn prices. The report is pretty neutral on soybeans because the trade had pretty good estimates of what the stocks report would say."

But even with soybean stocks slightly better than expected, prices have been on the rise. And with the influx of a lot of new crop corn on the horizon, Hurt said growers might want to reconsider their planting intentions.

"As we look at the implications of these reports, I think one of the clear ones is that the very large corn acreage will depress new crop corn prices, but the low soybean acreage will be overall increasing to new crop prices of beans," he said. "The market now, in the next several days or weeks, is going to try to still buy more bean acres. So I think producers should rethink that corn and soybean mix, or at least redo their calculations and put beans a little bit higher in their priorities this year."

According to Hurt, soybean futures prices as of March 29 were about $25 per acre more profitable than corn.

Hurt and Alexander estimated that with an average 2012 crop yield, the national average corn price could be about $5.25 per bushel and beans about $11.75. In that case, Midwest farmers would see the highest soybean revenues and second-highest corn revenues in history.

But the high revenues don't tell the whole story. The cost of producing those crops is up an estimated 15-20 percent this year, so the total returns actually will be down somewhat from 2011. "The returns are coming down, but they're coming down from record-high levels," Hurt said.

Following Friday's reports, Hurt and Alexander hosted a free webinar to discuss implications. The webinar has been archived and can be viewed at https://www.agecon.purdue.edu/cab/march30outlook/.

The reports can be read in their entirety on the USDA-NASS website at http://www.nass.usda.gov/.