DES MOINES, Iowa — The nation’s farmers planted the largest soybean crop on record this year, devoting millions of acres of land to the crop that had been used for growing corn, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Monday.
Farmers planted 84.8 million acres of soybeans, which was nearly 11 percent more than last year’s 76.5 million acres. Among the states that planted record amounts of the crop were Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
Corn was planted on 91.6 million acres, which was nearly 4 percent less than last year’s 95.4 million acres.
“Corn might be king in the U.S., but soybeans are knocking on the palace door,” said Grant Kimberley, a corn and soybean farmer near Maxwell in central Iowa and director of market development for the Iowa Soybean Association. “The increase of soybeans has been dramatic the last couple of years here and I think the increased protein demand worldwide has a lot to do with that.”
About a third of the U.S. soybean crop is exported to China, where there’s a large demand for soybeans to feed hogs, poultry and dairy cows.
For much of the last decade, farmers in the primary corn and soybean growing states of the Midwest had greater profit potential with corn, the strong market driven largely by increasing demand from the ethanol industry. Corn prices surpassed $8 a bushel in August 2012, when a drought that gripped much of the nation reduced the supply of corn amid high demand.
As corn prices remained strong, farmers planted more acres to take advantage of higher profit. For a few seasons, some planted corn followed by corn, which often decreases the per-acre yield of the crop because it doesn’t allow the soil to recover. Corn needs an abundance of nitrogen in the soil to flourish, and soybeans increase nitrogen levels in soil.
Corn prices declined throughout last year, to below $5 per bushel. They remain around $4.20.
Soybean prices, however, have mostly climbed since 2012, from around $13 to nearly $14 per bushel.