Farmers expect costs up more than income: Reuters survey

HONOLULU Fri Jan 13, 2012 9:33am EST

HONOLULU (Reuters) - Farmers expect another year of rising income and even higher costs, and plan to boost their plantings of soybeans and corn this year, according to a Reuters survey released on Wednesday.

Farmers said they expect to increase their corn plantings by 6 percent, soybean acres by 2.5 percent and wheat acres by 7.1 percent, according to a random survey of 462 farmers and ranchers at the American Farm Bureau Federation's annual meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii, which concluded this week.

Only cotton acreage was seen down, with respondents saying they would plant 11 percent less of the fiber this year.

"We're fixing to quit cotton," said Boyce Foust, of Blountsville, Alabama, who attributed the change to his getting older. "Cotton is my best crop, though."

Farmers expect a slight increase in income this year but are bracing for higher farm costs due to rising fuel and fertilizer prices.

Some 24 percent of respondents expect their farm income to rise by as much as 5 percent compared to 2011. But almost 40 percent of those surveyed predicted costs would rise between 5.1 and 10 percent, and 19 percent saw costs going higher than that.

"Prices are going up and costs are going up, but costs are going to increase more," said Victor Womack, a dairy farmer from near Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He said costs were already on the rise for fertilizer, electricity and diesel fuel.

"That's what everybody's telling you," he said.

Other farmers told Reuters that land values, which had soared and boosted incomes, were stabilizing and that they did not believe high grain prices could be sustained.

The USDA will release its first farm income estimates for 2012 in February. Its most recent estimate saw farm income up 19 percent in 2011 and anticipated a boost in 2012, but it said increasing farm production costs could slow income growth.

Although he said he does not forecast farm income or market prices, Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman on Sunday said he expects the positive trends to continue.

"I hope that at the end of 2012, American agriculture has a fantastic year," Stallman said.

Most major agricultural commodity prices fell in 2011, with abundant global stocks holding wheat down 18 percent and a softening world economy hurting soy and sugar prices.

U.S. corn prices saw their third year of gains in 2011, up 2.9 percent on a year-end dry spell that threatened the Argentina corn crop.

Farmers who participated in the survey said they expect corn and soybean prices to fall in 2012, while prices for wheat and cotton were seen unchanged.

But even with prices uncertain, farmers said they would plant more acres to grains this year.

USDA will release data on Thursday that is expected to show the most winter wheat plantings in three years. The Agriculture Department will not release prospective plantings for corn, soybeans or spring wheat until March.

(Reporting By Emily Stephenson, additional reporting by Charles Abbott; editing by Jim Marshall)

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