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OHIO FARMERS Soybeans, corn pose challenges



Published: Sat, April 16, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The weather may have the biggest impact on what the farmers plant, experts said.

TOLEDO (AP) -- Deciding whether to plant corn or soybeans usually isn't so difficult.

Most grain farmers tend to stick with their long-planned rotation of beans one year and corn the next. A few throw in a year of wheat.

The decision has been complicated this year by the threat of soybean rust, a fungus that could hurt production, and high nitrogen and propane costs that could reduce corn profits.

"I'm sure everyone thought about this," said Ellen Joslin, who farms about 1,000 acres near Sidney in western Ohio. "Energy prices are going through the roof. That's almost more of a concern than soybean rust."

Jim Beurelein, an agronomist with Ohio State University's Extension program, said a number of farmers were going to grow a lot more corn until the costs went up.

"On the whole, it's pretty much going to be a wash," he said.

Nationwide, growers intend to plant 74 million acres of soybeans this year, down 2 percent, according to estimates from the U.S. Agriculture Department. Soybean rust is thought to be one of the reasons for the decline.

Agriculture experts say most farmers in Ohio are sticking with their original plans. Farmers in the state are expected to plant about 50,000 more acres of each beans and corn than last year, much of that replacing wheat.

Rotation plans

Only 6 percent of Ohio farmers said soybean rust affected their planting decisions and a third said they would reduce the number of acres planted in beans, according to an agriculture department survey.

Peter Thomison, a corn specialist with the Extension program, estimated that no more than 10 percent of growers will alter their rotation plans, based on his discussion with farmers and others in the industry.

Soybean rust, which has the potential to cause millions of dollars in damage, is found throughout South America. It arrived in the United States late last year, and there's no guarantee it will make its way into Ohio this year.

The fungus, spread by wind-borne spores, hasn't caused any real damage in the U.S. yet. It cost farmers in Brazil about $1 billion last year in crop losses and fungicide treatment.

High natural gas prices have made the use of nitrogen-based fertilizer much more costly for corn growers. Nitrogen is made from natural gas. Farmers add the fertilizer to replace nitrogen that corn takes out of the soil.

One way to combat the high fertilizer cost is to take soil samples and then adjust the amount of nitrogen used, said Mike Miller, an extension agent in Medina County. Farmers have tended to add a little extra nitrogen as insurance.

"Now they're fine-tuning," Miller said. "There are some folks cutting every expense they can."

Agronomists tell farmers that it's best not to mess with crop rotation because planting corn or beans in consecutive years could increase the chances of developing diseases or insect problems.

Joslin said after some consideration, she and her husband, Rob, decided to stick with their rotation plans.

In the end, the weather may have the biggest impact on whether farmers plant corn or beans, agriculture experts said.

If the next few weeks are warm and relatively dry, farmers probably will plant more corn. If it rains a lot they'll turn to beans, which can be planted later.

"We've got people who would like to plant now, but it's still awful cold," Beurelein said. "Everybody is ready to roar."




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