Louisiana farmers sow seeds, pray for bumper crops

MONROE (AP) — Soybeans and corn will dominate northeastern Louisiana’s fertile fields this spring and summer, while farmers are expected to plant the fewest acres of cotton in Louisiana history.

Farmers are hoping to match the bumper crops of 2012, when state yield records were set for most major row crops. That production, combined with strong commodity prices, generated about $2.7 billion in value for from the major crops.

“It was a great year,” said Hank Rabb, a Tensas Parish producer. “Now we need back-to-back years like that.”

Soybean acres will top 1 million acres in Louisiana again this year, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Planting Intentions Survey, while corn will come in next at 600,000 acres, a 10 percent jump from 2012.

“It’s all about corn and beans here,” Rabb said. “Price drives acres.”

Northeastern Louisiana farmers have already planted their corn, and most have already established strong stands.

“It’s all in and all up,” Rabb said. “The late freeze bit the end of some of the leaves, but it’s greened back up.”

Producers will begin planting early soybeans as soon as the fields dry out from recent rains, while many will also plant late beans after the winter wheat is harvested in May and June.

But cotton, once king, continues its steady decline in Louisiana.

Farmers estimate they will plant only 170,000 acres of cotton this spring, which would be the fewest acres in Louisiana history.

“I’ve cut my cotton back by half,” Rabb said. “I still try to keep a little bit around or my granddaddy and great granddaddy might roll over in their graves. The price has actually come up, but it’s almost to late to buy any more cotton acres this year.”

Rice acres could rise slightly this year. Farmers estimate they will plant about 420,000 acres of rice, a 4 percent increase over 2012.

“The price for rice is better because the supply is down tremendously,” said Richland Parish producer Fred Franklin, who plants rice, soybeans and wheat. “We’re at prices now where we should have been last year.”

Franklin said recent rain has delayed rice planting.

“We’re about two weeks behind,” he said. “We ought to have 25 percent or 30 percent planted by now. There’s a little planted, but not much.”

Ken Thornhill, a longtime sweet potato producer in Franklin Parish, said he believes sweet potato acres could fall below the predicted 9,000, which would be the fewest on record.

Thornhill will plant just 250 acres of potatoes in May, far fewer than his peak years of 900 acres or more.

“I think the final figure could be as low as 7,000 acres,” Thornhill said. “It’s just a matter of economics. We’re getting the same price now for fresh market No. 1 potatoes as we were getting in 1989, but inputs have quadrupled.”

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