Changes in Crop Acres Since Freedom to Farm

Corn and soybean saw big gains, other crops decreased or held steady.

Published on: Aug 25, 2011

The 1995 Freedom to Farm Act gave producers the option to plant what they believed to be their most competitive crops and still participate in the farm program. That choice tenet still underlies today's farm bill legislation and when comparing the five year period just before its enactment to the last five years, there are clear cut winners and losers in terms of crops and acreage says University of Illinois Farm Management Specialist Gary Schnitkey.

"What we saw is a movement toward soybeans and corn; soybeans gained 14 million acres from the early period to 2005-2009," Schnitkey said. "Corn gained nine million so those two crops were the only crops that gained in acres, hay and rice were stable, but the big losers were wheat, barley and grain sorghum."

To evaluate acreage changes, data detailing acres harvested in the United States by year were obtained from the National Agricultural Statistical Service. Data were collected for all crops with over one million acres harvested in 2008.  There were thirteen of them:  soybeans, corn for grain, hay, rice, wheat, barley, grain sorghum, corn for silage, cotton, peanuts, dry edible beans, potatoes, and sugarbeets. Acres harvested were averaged for the years 1990 through 1994, the years preceding the passage of the 1995 Farm Bill, and 2005 through 2009.

Between the early 1990s and late 2000s, soybeans were the crop with the largest acreage increase. It averaged 58.2 million acres harvested in the early 90's, increasing to 72.2 million acres in the late 2000's. It's an increase of about 25%. Corn also had a sizable increase of 9.4 million acres, or a 14% increase from one period to the other. Wheat had the largest reduction from 62.8 million acres to 50.7 million acres, down 19%.

The data, says Schnitkey, show the largest increases in corn and soybean acreage were concentrated in the Great Plains and the greater Corn Belt.

"The state that gained the most in corn and soybean acres was North Dakota gaining four million acres," Schnitkey said. "Other big gainers were Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas."