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Delaware farmers could see record low hay harvest, more soybeans this year

Delaware Public Media

A national survey of major crop plantings projects Delaware farmers will see lower harvests of hay and certain grains this year, but more soybeans.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service’s (NASS) June 2021 acreage reportestimates Delaware farmers planted about 175,000 acres of corn this year, a decrease of 3% compared to last year. The area of soybeans planted—160,000 acres—is up 7% from last year. 

Delaware Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kenny Bounds says the changes are within the range of normal fluctuations based on crop rotations, contract obligations and market prices. 

“For example, this year we’re looking at China rebuilding their swine herd, and they’re looking to buy a lot of soybeans,” he said. 

NASS estimates are based on representative surveys and are therefore not perfectly precise, notes Delaware Farm Bureau President Richard Wilkins. 

“There is a range of error,” he said. “When we’re looking at a 3% or a 7%, that is within that range of error that may exist. I don’t see it, myself, as a real significant difference in acres from last year to be concerned.”

But hay and other grain crops saw more dramatic changes. 

NASS projects Delaware farmers will harvest a record low 11,000 acres of hay this year, down 21% from 2020. Harvests of winter wheat and barley, which are also planted over much smaller areas than corn and soy in Delaware, are projected to decrease by 18% and 7% respectively compared to last year. 

Wilkins says these decreases are likely due to wet weather last year—which can hurt the quality of hay and make it harder to plant grains like wheat and barley. 

“If you’re a hay grower and you just came off a year where you had a lot of hay that you couldn't sell at a reasonable price, and now all of a sudden this year you’re looking at the market and the price that’s being offered to you to grow corn and soybeans is the best that it’s been in five years—well that could lead to some decisions,” he said. 

Wilkins says a loss of several dairy farms in the state may also have contributed to the decrease in acres of hay planted.

He adds that Delaware is seeing a loss of farmland to development over time.

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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