As planting kicks off, expectations for Mid-South corn acreage remain high. And Extension specialists say that’s the case even without late crop shifts.

“Everyone is keeping an eye on the (Clearfield 131) ban,” says Erick Larson, Mississippi Extension corn specialist. “But not much of our rice ground will be rotated to corn. I hope that’s the case, anyway. We typically see a lot of fertility problems, particularly with phosphorus, when corn is behind rice.

“Even so, we intend to plant the largest corn crop in Mississippi in well over 40 years. We’ll likely have between 700,000 acres and 1 million acres of corn. In other words, corn may exceed cotton acreage in the state. That’s particularly true if the current great planting season weather holds.”

David Lanclos estimates Louisiana’s corn crop will be 500,000 acres-plus.

“Soybeans are even harder to predict,” says the LSU AgCenter corn specialist. “We know the corn acres are coming primarily from cotton. The soybean acreage seems set to remain pretty consistent with central and southwest Louisiana increasing just slightly. In the northeast, how much corn they plant will heavily influence soybean acreage. I anticipate soybeans will be the largest planted commodity in the state — 800,000 acres to 900,000 acres.”

Even with urea at $400 to $435 per ton, Jason Kelley thinks Arkansas will have 500,000 acres of corn.

“I was a little worried about that prediction considering the nitrogen price continues to move up,” says the Arkansas Extension corn specialist. “But so far, even though they don’t like the nitrogen price, no one seems to have shied away from corn.”

Agreeing with Kelley’s corn acreage estimate for Arkansas, William Johnson also thought rising fertilizer prices might tamp down corn acreage. “But so far it doesn’t seem to have made much of a dent,” says the Pioneer field sales agronomist. “One guy told me, ‘Last year, I booked corn at $2.60 with urea at $300. This year, I’ve averaged about $4.15 through the feed mills for my corn and $400 urea doesn’t bother me. I’m making more money in this scenario.’”

Johnson expects any shift from rice to soybeans to be in Group 5s.

“Two of (Pioneer’s) 5s are now out and we’re a week away from another one being out. We’re hitting the barrel’s bottom with Group 5s.”

Rice producers like Group 5 varieties “because if they’re growing rice, too, there’s less water available for irrigation in July. A Group 4 normally needs watering in July, because that’s when it’s in reproduction. A Group 5 doesn’t reproduce until August. In August, the rice is nearly done. Farmers can move the rice water to the soybeans.”

All agree there will be a bump in grain sorghum acres in 2007.

In Mississippi “the last couple of years we’ve had less than 50,000 acres of milo,” says Larson. “I think we’ll be well over 100,000 acres — maybe up to 200,000 acres — this year.”

Kelley expects similar numbers in Arkansas. “Last year, we harvested only 60,000 acres of grain sorghum. Tripling that will mean we’re at, roughly, 200,000 acres. We’d have more, but it’s the same situation we’re looking at in corn. Farmers want to grow grain sorghum, but it isn’t easy finding good seed.”

Among Larson’s concerns is “with all the new corn growers we have this year, the intricacies of a corn crop aren’t well known. Something that tends to catch new corn growers off guard is the increased fertility demands of the crop. Corn is also more sensitive to plant spacing, seeding depths and discrepancies in the planting process.”

Considering the lack of corn seed, boning up on corn’s requirements is probably a good idea.

“Most farmers understand they’ve got corn seed to plant once,” says Kelley. “There’s no guarantee on re-plant seed. So some growers are taking extra care to get that first stand up healthy.”

e-mail: dbennett@farmpress.com