HARRISONBURG — The seeds aren’t in the ground yet, but early indications are that Virginia farmers plan to plant more soybeans this year than in 2017 while growing the same number of acres of corn.

That information was provided last week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistical Service. The data was based on the March 1 survey of farmers’ planting intentions in 2018.

The survey’s responses led to the projection that 630,000 acres of soybeans would be planted statewide this year. That’s 30,000 acres, or 5 percent, more than were planted a year ago.

Farmers plan to plant 500,000 acres of corn, the same as 2017, while hay production is expected to drop by 35,000 acres to 1.17 million.

Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services spokeswoman Elaine Lidholm said farmers sometimes use the March report to change their planting plans for the year. They could see the Virginia data, look at national expectations, and alter their plans out of concerns that there will be a glut of a certain commodity that would lower prices.

“As with anything in agriculture, they put a lot of thought into what they’re going to plant each year,” Lidholm said. “Chances are anyone who plants soybeans also can plant corn. It’s a decision they can make.”

Weather patterns, prices and other factors also could affect a producer’s decision about what to plant, she said.

USDA state statistician Herman Ellison agreed, saying market projections play a big role in what farmers decided to plant.

What actually winds up in Virginia fields will become evident when the next survey results are published on June 29.

“The story is going to be in June,” Ellison said. “That’s when we really know what the farmers have planted. During that time, most of the corn will be planted, and the soybeans mostly will planted.”

Small Grains Up

The survey did find that more Virginia farmers put small grains in their fields over the winter.

The number of acres of barley seeded statewide last fall was up 10,000 from 2017 to 40,000, while winter wheat plantings rose to 230,000 from 210,000.

Though the acreage totals remain relatively small, the increases were significant on a percentage basis for both crops. Both acreage totals were below 2015 planting levels, though.

Doug Horn, the Virginia Cooperative Extension crop and soil sciences agent for Rockingham County, said he’s not sure if more local farmers are looking to cash in with a winter crop.

Some Rockingham farmers plant winter wheat as a cover crop to protect the soil on their fields, and they chop it for forage or graze it, he said. Few grow it to sell.

“The market has not been good the last couple of years,” Horn said, “so not many are planting it as a cash crop. Some use it to break up their crop rotation.”

When he rides around the county looking at fields after the harvest, he said he’s looking to see which farms are using cover crops and can’t readily tell whether a producers has planted wheat, barley or triticale on their land.

Lidholm said she wouldn’t be surprised if some Virginia farmers didn’t start growing a different type of barley soon to support the growing craft beer industry.

Ellison thanked the farmers for participating in the survey so NASS can provide accurate information for them to use and encouraged them to continue to respond to such inquiries.

Contact Vic Bradshaw at 574-6279 or vbradshaw@dnronline.com

On the net

Visit release.nass.usda.gov/reports/cropan18.pdf to view the complete report.