Ethanol causes farmers to plant more corn in 2007

TOLEDO, Ohio – Inspired by growing demand for corn for the growing ethanol industry, farmers across the United States are growing corn this year instead of soybeans, wheat and cotton.

Some in the Midwest are ending their longtime practice of rotating plantings of soybeans one year and corn the next, choosing to grow corn in consecutive years. Livestock farmers are turning pastures into cornfields.

“We have farmers half-joking about planting corn in their front yards,” said Matt Roberts, an agricultural economist at Ohio State University. “A lot of farmers see this as an opportunity to have a very good year.”

Prices for corn are up to $3.40 a bushel and are projected to approach $4, reaching highs not seen in the last decade. At least 6 million to 8 million more acres (2.4 million to 3.2 million more hectares) of corn will be needed to supply ethanol plants, analysts say.

Ethanol production is expected to double as new plants are built to turn corn into the gasoline additive, from around 5 billion gallons now to 11 billion gallons, according to industry estimates.

Private investment in ethanol plants has soared as government leaders have called for more production of renewable fuels.

Farmers in the Midwest may be able to make $50 per acre by going with corn instead soybeans, Roberts said. “That’s a tremendous difference,” he said.

Some farmers are contemplating planting continuous years of corn, but that can lead to pest problems and increased costs for fertilizer and seed, said Bruce Erickson, a Purdue University agricultural economist.

And those fields tend to produce less each year. Most farmers rotate their crops to stop insects and weeds and maintain soil nutrients.

“Most scientific research shows a 10 percent drop in yield when you plant corn on corn,” Erickson said.

In Louisiana, the number of acres devoted to corn likely will double and possibly triple.

“Everybody wants to get into corn this year, some who have never planted it before,” he said.

Jim Harper, who grows rice, cotton and sugar cane in Louisiana, said he could make $150 more per acre by growing corn instead of cotton if he has a good crop.

That gives him the idea of not planning any cotton for the first time in 30 years. “It’s just a better income opportunity,” he said.

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