updated 6/29/2007 12:14:58 PM ET 2007-06-29T16:14:58

Farmers this year planted the most corn since the waning days of World War II, outpacing already high expectations for the crop, according to a federal report issued Friday.

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Fueled by high demand and high prices for corn as food, feed and fuel, farmers planted an estimated 92.9 million acres of corn, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported. That’s 19 percent more than in 2006 and nearly 3 percent more than an earlier government estimate.

The record for corn planting was 95.5 million acres set in 1944, as American farmers responded to a huge demand for the crop in war-torn Europe.

In March, the Agriculture Department predicted corn growers would plant 90.5 million acres.

“What surprises me is that the farmer got it done,” said Roy Huckabay, executive vice president at the Linn Group in Chicago. “I didn’t think he was able to do it, but he’s obviously done it.”

Huckabay said Friday’s report affirms what is obvious to even some casual observers.

“Just driving down the road you can see it,” he said. “I drive from Chicago to Kansas City often during the summer, and you can just drive forever without seeing a bean field. All you see is cornfields.”

That boom has been fueled by sky high corn prices, a result largely attributed to rising production of corn-based ethanol. Corn futures in electronic trading on the Chicago Board of Trade was trending higher, with corn for July delivery up 8 cents to $3.48 a bushel.

Despite the historic planting levels, some predicted demand would continue to climb and put pressure on prices.

“We’ll need another significant increase in corn acres next year to keep prices reasonable and there’s no answer in this report where that’s coming from,” said Bill Roenigk, the vice president of the National Chicken Council. “Soybeans are giving all it can, cotton has given all it can ... it’s a question of, ’You’ve done nice things for me lately, but what are you going to do for me next year?”

According to Friday’s report, the soybeans planted area is estimated at 64.1 million acres, down 15 percent from 2006 and the lowest level since 1995.

The planting numbers led some analysts to predict higher soybean prices on Friday.

Numbers for wheat planting were up, according to the report. An estimated 60.5 million acres of wheat was planted, up 6 percent from 2006.

Cotton plantings, estimated at 11.1 million acres, are 28 percent below last year’s levels — the lowest since 1989.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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