Among the primary crops planted in the region, economists speaking at the Tennessee agricultural forum agreed that grain crops will likely remain a good crop for Southeastern growers, while traditional crops like cotton and peanuts may face a difficult time competing for acreage.

Wheat

Though not considered by some to be a traditional southern crop, wheat acreage over the past few years has continued to climb, especially in the upper Southeast.

Among the Southeastern states North Carolina is by far the largest wheat producer. In the Tar Heel state alone it is estimated that nearly 1,000,000 acres of wheat will be planted this fall.

From 2010 until 2012 in the United States, wheat prices have increased by 42 percent and use for livestock feed has increased an astounding 238 percent. In grain deficit Southeastern states wheat growers are rapidly cutting into the shortfall of grain for use as livestock feed.

During the same time, U.S. wheat exports were down by 11 percent and food and seed use was up 3 percent. The small increase in food and seed use was driven primarily by an increase in demand for wheat seed.

Wheat acreage for the 2012-2013 growing season in the Southeast is likely to be driven by continued high prices. The latest USDA estimates are for continued good wheat prices, likely in the $8-$9 per bushel range.

Corn

Uncertainties over the U.S. corn crop in 2012 are dominating world markets, according to Barr. He notes that U.S. corn yields declined for the third year in a row in 2012.

In June of 2012, the USDA estimated corn yields would be 163 bushels per acre. Following one of the worst droughts in history in the Midwest that yield estimate is now down to 122 bushels per acre.

Small yield increases in corn in most Southeastern states had little impact on total corn production in the U.S.

Production declines over the past three years have driven domestic use for corn down from 13 billion bushels in 2010 down to an estimated 11 billion bushels in 2012. Use is projected to continue to decline in 2013.

In 2012 corn stocks were at their lowest levels since 1995. In the past year corn used for ethanol in the U.S. is down 25 percent, feed use is down 9 percent and corn exports are down 25 percent. During that same time, corn prices have increased by 26 percent.

Soybeans

Whether soybean acreage in the Southeast is being driven by wheat or vice versa is open for debate.

Regardless of the driver, soybean acreage across the region was up in 2012 and appears certain to be up again for the 2013 planting season.