Texas rice farmers could plant a few more acres in 2004 to take advantage of higher prices. Or maybe not.

Soybean acreage could bump a bit, buoyed by high prices, but feedgrains, including wheat, corn and grain sorghum, likely will remain close to 2003 levels or see slight drops, according to Texas Extension economists.

It's hard to figure, says Texas Cooperative Extension associate professor and Extension economist David Anderson.

“Producers who are committed to rice may add acreage to take advantage of a price increase, so we could see a slight jump,” Anderson said.

Countering that possibility, however, is the continuing damper on acreage created by 1996 farm legislation and perpetrated by the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002. In both of those farm bills, government payments were de-coupled, meaning a farmer or landowner could receive payments without planting the crop. A lot of landowners opted to take the payment without the production risks. Some farmer/renters lost acreage as a result.

“Texas rice experienced a big drop in acreage following the 1996 farm bill,” Anderson said. USDA figures indicate acreage at 259,000 in 1997 and only 181,000 last year.

The payment structure, combined with low rice prices, resulted in acreage declines, Anderson said.

“Depending on who you talk to, acreage estimates for 2004 range from slightly lower to higher,” he said. “I believe acreage will remain stable or just slightly higher this year.”

Anderson does expect U.S. acreage to increase. “The key is Arkansas,” he said.

Another factor that will affect Texas rice acreage will be the improved prospects for other crops. “Corn, soybeans, grain sorghum and cotton prices all show improvement,” he said.

Texas farmers planted less wheat last fall than they did in 2002 and some planted acreage may be converted to other feedgrains or cotton unless production potential improves over the next few weeks, says Extension economist Mark Waller.

“Some wheat planted under dry conditions last fall will not make,” Waller said. “The question then will be whether that acreage will go into grain crops or cotton.”

Waller said corn acreage is not likely to change much one way or another but a drop appears more likely than an increase. He said higher fertilizer prices and high energy costs for irrigation may encourage some corn growers to switch to cotton or grain sorghum.

“As for grain sorghum, Is planting conditions for other crops is ideal, I expect grains sorghum acreage to decline slightly. But ideal conditions are not likely. If we see an increase in grain sorghum, it will result from a shift from other acreage that didn't get planted or didn't make.”

Waller said high prices may push soybean acreage up slightly. “The actual percentage jump could be significant but the acreage will not amount to a lot,” he said. “Texas does not grow a lot of soybeans to begin with. Yields are just not consistent. Some farmers will occasionally make 60 bushels per care, but not on a regular basis.”

Weather at planting time, Waller said, as usual will be a determining factor in how many acres of soybeans and feedgrains farmers plant.

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com