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Farmers cautious despite $7 corn

Drought worries remain in region

Northeast Indiana growers are likely to be conservative when they hit the fields, despite a federal survey that suggests farmers will plant the most acres of corn since before World War II.

Results from the U.S. Department of Agriculture poll released Thursday said the 2013 corn planting forecast is pegged at 97.3 million acres, up slightly from last year’s 97.2 million acres and the most since 1936.

Corn remains profitable, as prices are holding strong around $7 a bushel after last year’s severe drought left the grain in short supply. In a separate report, the USDA said corn stocks fell 10 percent from a year ago to 5.40 billion bushels.

As for soybeans, the report said farmers plan to plant 77.1 million acres, down a bit from 77.2 million acres last year.

Harlan farmer Mark Roemke said the industry is too unpredictable for him to change his planting habits.

“If you try chasing the market price, you don’t know for sure what it will be,” said Roemke, who grows about 4,000 acres of corn and soybeans. “Half the time, they’re wrong anyway.”

Besides, Roemke said he’s not so sure the subsoil has recovered from last year’s drought conditions.

“I plan on planting by April 25,” Roemke said. “I just leave things they way they are. People planted last year and look what happened: Everything burnt up.”

Hoagland farmer Dave Schlaudroff said he also will err on the side of caution.

“There’s always somebody out there that is trying to beat the average and hit it big,” he said. Schlaudroff grows corn on 200 acres. “It’s a gamble and almost worse than going to Vegas. You’ve still got to have the (ideal) weather and rain.”

Record corn acreage is expected in Arizona, Idaho, Minnesota, Nevada, North Dakota and Oregon. And Iowa, the nation’s leading corn producer, will plant an estimated 14.2 million acres in corn, the same as last year.

But the states that suffered significantly during last year’s drought – the worst since the 1950s – expect to plant slightly less corn acreage: Illinois’ acres are down 5 percent to 12.2 million; Minnesota fell 3 percent to 9 million acres; and Nebraska corn acres are down 1 percent at 9.9 million acres.

Phil DeVillez is a crop performance manager for Purdue University. The agriculturist says he wouldn’t blame farmers who try to “take advantage.”

“When you’re looking at those kinds of prices, you want to plant every acre you can,” DeVillez said. “It’s not a big surprise. Some of the Midwest states like Indiana, Ohio and Illinois were hit as bad as the Western states last year where there are still drought conditions.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.