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Iowa farmers finding more land for crop production

Rex L. Troute, The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa –

With corn and soybean prices continuing to be good, Iowa farmers are finding more land to put into production for additional revenue.

In the past six years, Iowa farmers have converted 700,000 acres of ground into row crops according to numbers provided by the National Agricultural Statistics Service at Iowa’s USDA office in Des Moines. In 2006, 12.6 million acres of corn were planted, while 10.15 million acres of Iowa land went into soybeans. By 2011, Iowa farmers leaned more toward planting corn with 14.1 million acres and 9.35 million acres sowed in soybeans.

“Some land is coming out of CRP (Conservation Reserve Program). When the contract is up, they (farmers) can either renew or put it into production,” said Dustin VandeHoef, communications director for the Iowa Department of Agriculture. “Some pastures and hayfields have been converted to row crops.”

On a local level, Aaron Eads, director of the Farm Service Agency office in Burlington, hasn’t seen a lot of CRP ground converted into row crop production.

“In Des Moines County we probably aren’t seeing a lot of that,” Eads said.

Once a farmer signs a field up for CRP, the field is locked up for a 10-year period. Plus, the main reason a field is put into the Conservation Reserve Program is to prevent erosion. A farmer is required to plant a variety of grass in order to achieve that goal. Such a practice benefits pheasants, quail, turkeys and other wildlife.

“There is definitely some conversion going on … and driven by crop prices,” said Drew Delang, district conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service office in Burlington.

Even with some new ground going into production, Delang sees farmers maintaining their role as stewards of the land.

“We still see a strong conservation effort,” Delang said.

The Conservation Stewardship Program “rewards farmers for the good things they are doing on their farm,” said Delang.

Terracing fields, creating waterways and water and sediment control basins are evidence area farmers haven’t abandoned conservation.

Delang believes much of the new row crop acres have come at the expense of pastures, old building sites and torn-out fence rows.

“What I’ve seen the most of is hay ground going into production,” said Bob Dodds, regional director of ISU Extension. “We have reduced our hay acres.”

Dodds’ position with ISU Extension has him covering four counties – Des Moines, Henry, Lee and Louisa – and gives him a chance to see firsthand what’s happening in southeast Iowa.

He’s also seen farmers put more acres into production along streams and even cleared small areas of trees.

In Lee County, Dodds has seen fewer farmers planting small grain crops such as wheat and oats, opting instead to plant the more profitable corn and soybeans.

Dodds admits grain prices are one reason farmers have sought more acres for production, but also attributed the trend to the rise in land prices.

“Not to long ago you could buy 80 or 160 acres, and now buy 10 acres for the same price,” Dodds said.

With land values rising by nearly a third over the last year, farmers have a reason to turn CRP ground or idle land into production. At auctions and estate sales, farm ground routinely sells for more than $10,000 per acre. The record was set in December, when a Sioux County farm sold for $20,000 an acre.

As long as corn and soybean prices remain high, farmers may continue to find ways to put more land into production.

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