Farmers may be questioning an acreage report released today by the Agriculture Department that shows a whopping 92.3 million acres of U.S. corn plantings this year, when most observers expected less acreage due to poor weather conditions that delayed planting over much of the Corn Belt.

Today’s USDA acreage report signals a potential U.S. corn crop of 13.47 billion bushels, which will be needed to rebuild stocks and meet feed and fuel demand, says Todd Davis, crops economist with the American Farm Bureau Federation.

“We have a lot of hurdles to jump to reach a harvest of 13.47 billion bushels of corn this year,” Davis says. “The weather throughout the Corn Belt will have to cooperate in July and August for farmers to gets strong yields, and we would have to harvest the 84.8 million acres projected in the June 30 acreage survey.”

Davis says the USDA crop report caught everyone by surprise. Most analysts were expecting USDA to forecast corn plantings to come in from 89.5 million acres to 91.5 million acres.

“I don’t think anybody was expecting more than 92 million corn acres this year,” Davis says. “From the coffee shops to the trading floor, everybody you talked to expected USDA to reduce its corn acreage from the March 31 prospective plantings report because of all the weather headaches farmers are having this year. USDA actually moved up its 2011 corn acreage slightly from its March 31 prospective plantings forecast.”

If USDA’s prediction comes true, the 92.3 million acres would be 5% larger than last year’s U.S. corn crop when 88.19 million acres were planted. U.S. corn acreage planted in 2011 would be the second-highest since 1944, behind only the 93.5 million acres planted in 2007.

“The market was signaling a need for more corn acres this year and farmers responded,” Davis says. “Most of the acreage gains are coming from the western Corn Belt. USDA found more acres in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota, which offset the reduced acreage in the eastern Corn Belt.”