The 2003 Louisiana cotton crop is about ready to be brought in, and LSU AgCenter cotton specialist Joel Faircloth says everything looks good so far.

“The number of acres to be harvested is expected to be more than 500,000 this year,” said Faircloth, who is stationed at the LSU AgCenter's Scott Research, Extension and Education Center in Winnsboro, La. “About 10 percent of the producers are picking now (mid-September), and we expect the crop to produce average yields — between 650 to 670 pounds of lint per acre.”

Pest problems have been light on this year's crop, and some early harvesting already has been done in some areas, Faircloth said. The usual cotton harvest time in Louisiana is from mid-September through October.

Faircloth's comments came during a meeting of the Louisiana Cotton Producers Association in Monroe, La. They were similar to comments LSU AgCenter experts have been making at meetings of producers and field days at AgCenter research stations across north Louisiana in recent weeks.

Cotton acres expected to be harvested this year are up a little from 2002, although still not up to the state's average over the past 50 years.

According to the LSU AgCenter's Louisiana Summary of Agriculture and Natural Resources for 2002, the acreage planted to cotton in Louisiana was down from 848,738 acres in 2001 to 490,918 acres last year. That was the lowest since 1983 and was well below the 50-year average of 618,000 acres.

Experts said the decline in acreage was caused primarily by lower prices and the challenges of cotton production in 2000 and 2001. Unpredictable weather resulted in below-average yields in these two years and forced many producers to seek alternative commodities. A substantial amount of cotton acreage also has been replaced by corn planted in many areas.

This year's predicted yields may be slightly below last year's average, according to Faircloth. The average lint yield per acre for cotton harvested in the state in 2002 was 734 pounds, and the gross farm value of the 2002 cotton crop was $131.4 million.

Boll weevil eradication vote

Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry Bob Odom, also at the meeting in Monroe, reminded producers to vote on the boll weevil eradication maintenance program — the continuation of an effort many experts credit with reducing some of the pests that have plagued cotton producers for years.

“Ballots have been mailed out to cotton producers and landowners,” Odom said. “These ballots are due by Sept. 24 and will be counted Sept. 30.

“Even though we have gotten rid of the weevil, it may come in from somewhere else,” Odom cautioned. “We've got to vote on this referendum, and we've got to encourage others to vote. The continued success of the boll weevil eradication effort depends on the maintenance program, and its cost is well worth the investment.”

The original cost of the maintenance program to farmers was $10 per acre, Odom said. But because of supplemental state funding, this cost has been lowered to $6 per acre.

The state's boll weevil eradication program began along the Red River in 1997 and in the northeastern cotton-producing parishes in 1999.

It has led to the eradication of the boll weevil — one of the most destructive and costliest insects in all of U.S. agriculture, experts say.

Cotton producers and/or landowners who do not receive a ballot in the mail can go to their local Farm Service Agency office and pick up one.

“A similar referendum failed in Mississippi,” Odom said. “We don't want the same thing to happen here.”


A. Denise Coolman writes for the LSU AgCenter (318-366-1477 or dcoolman@agcenter.lsu.edu).