BATON ROUGE, La. — Planting season for the 2003 cotton crop is just around the corner, and LSU AgCenter cotton specialist Joel Faircloth says this year's crop acreage should increase a little.

"One reason is because the alternatives don't look real good," said Faircloth, who is an assistant professor stationed at the LSU AgCenter's Scott Research, Extension and Education Center near Winnsboro, La.

"There won't be as much corn planted as originally thought. Rain kept a lot of producers out of the fields, and grain prices are down. Also, a lot of wheat didn't get planted (last fall), which may lead to more cotton acreage."

Faircloth said he believes Louisiana is going to see a little bit less conventional cotton grown this year.

"The trend continues to move toward more transgenic cotton such as Bollgard and Roundup Ready," he said.

Two varieties that Faircloth forecasts as leading the way this year are Delta and Pine Land's 555 BG/RR and Stoneville's 5599BR.

"I believe there will be a lot of acres planted in the DP 555 BG/RR variety," the LSU AgCenter expert said. "This variety performed well last year in both yield and quality. It appears to have a pretty good package."

Although the LSU AgCenter does not list ST 5599BR as one of its recommended varieties, Faircloth still predicts an increase in the acreage planted with that cotton variety.

"We don't recommend Stoneville's 5599BR because of its susceptibility to bronze wilt," Faircloth explained, adding that the cause of bronze wilt virus has not yet been identified.

"The problem is that nobody knows how to protect against it," he said. "Some years, producers may make it through with no problem. But if bronze wilt jumps in, they could lose a lot of yield."

Before cotton planting can begin, however, producers must get their fields ready.

J Cheston Stevens, a soil specialist with the LSU AgCenter, said cotton producers are in the process of formulating fertility programs and are trying to get their fields ready.

"Producers need a firm seedbed that is high enough for drainage," he said. "Some of the sandier-textured fields probably need to have the rows freshened-up or rehipped, since the fall and winter rains may have eroded the rows."

The prudent thing for producers to do is to take representative soil samples and follow the recommendations, "using a judicious soil fertility and liming program," Stevens said.

"By now, producers should have taken their samples, received the soil test results and be in the process of formulating their soil fertility programs," he said. "The LSU AgCenter recommends soil-sampling on a three-year rotation, preferably taking samples in the fall, getting them analyzed and working on a fertility plan to be implemented in the spring."

A routine soil test costs $7 per sample in Louisiana and includes analyses for soil pH, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and sodium. It also includes a soil texture analysis and a recommendation on any lime required — if lime is needed for the crop that will be grown, Stevens said.

In addition, if a producer is cooperating with Natural Resources Conservation Service, seeking assistance on Environmental Quality Incentives Program contracts, or using an organic fertilizer such as poultry litter or other animal manures, the soil organic matter determination is needed. The cost for this analysis is $3 per sample.

Producers are encouraged to complete soil sampling as soon as possible, Stevens said, adding that farmers should allow about a week for soil samples to be analyzed and the results to come back.

A study by Don Boquet, a researcher at the LSU AgCenter's Macon Ridge Research Station in Winnsboro, La., shows Louisiana's optimum planting dates for cotton are April 15 through May 2.

"Without soil test information, we may be under- or over-fertilizing our crop," he said. "The saying 'soil test — don't guess' is evermore important today with current economic conditions in the farming and agribusiness sectors of our economy."

Producers having soil tests run should be sure to mark whether the soil is alluvial or upland soil, Stevens said.

Despite unfavorable weather conditions and reduced acreage in 2002, cotton was still planted on nearly 491,000 acres in the state. In the end, the harvested crop yielded an average of 734 pounds per acre and meant nearly $145 million to the state's economy.

Contact: Don Boquet at 318–435–2157 or e-mail:Don Boquet; Joel Faircloth at 318–435–2908 or e-mail:Joel Faircloth

; or J Cheston Stevens at 318–435–2908 ore-mail:J Cheston Stevens.

A. Denise Coolman writes for the LSU AgCenter (318–366–1477 or e-mail:A. Denise Coolman)