Louisiana farmers planted 620,000 acres of cotton in 2006. This year, they may plant only half that amount, said LSU AgCenter cotton specialist Sandy Stewart.

As corn acres rise, cotton acres are plummeting in Louisiana. Many farmers who typically plant cotton are planting corn this year because of high prices for corn.

“If you look at it historically, this very well could be our lowest cotton crop in number of acres since 1866, when they started keeping records,” Stewart said.

While corn prices are high, due partly to demand from the ethanol industry, cotton prices are not encouraging farmers to plant. Prices have remained around 50 to 54 cents a pound for the past year. Even though less cotton acreage is expected this year, it won’t affect the price.

“We’ve got a lot of supply,” Stewart said. “Demand is still good, but we really are oversupplied with cotton. So the economics of the situation is one in which corn and soybeans look more attractive to our Louisiana farmers.”

Growers who do plant cotton will have to manage insects closely. Cotton fields near corn fields usually see more pest problems.

While insects may be a problem, farmers have a new weapon against weeds. Growers can plant the Roundup Ready Flex variety. This variety allows growers to spray for weeds throughout the growing season.

“Those varieties made their way on to farms in small numbers last year, and I think those acres will increase this year,” Stewart said.

As the name indicates, this variety will give growers more flexibility in controlling weeds.

“In the past with just regular Roundup Ready cotton, we’ve been restricted to Roundup applications before the fifth true leaf stage, which is very early,” Stewart said.

Stewart is concerned about herbicide-resistant weeds. In other states, cotton farmers have problems with weeds that have become resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup.

“As we increase the amount of glyphosate we use in cotton, we are concerned that we don’t develop a resistant weed species,” Stewart said. “It’s just a biological fact that the more selection and pressure you put on a population, the more likely are you are going to find a type of weed that is going to be resistant.”

Stewart is conducting research into double-cropping wheat and cotton to see if it would be feasible for farmers. Cotton farmers don’t typically double-crop with wheat.

Wheat is harvested in mid-May, and cotton farmers like to finish their planting before then because of late-season insects, but advancements in cotton production could make a wheat crop followed by cotton possible.

“The situation has changed in recent years mainly because the boll weevil eradication program has eliminated that insect of cotton,” said Stewart. “We also have Bt cotton that helps control late-season insects such as tobacco bud worm and corn ear worm.”

Bt cotton has been genetically modified to be resistant to certain insect pests.

The cold spring did not affect cotton or cotton planting. In the past cotton growers have planted in early April to get large crops planted before mid-May. Because the crop is small this year, farmers did not plant early. Louisiana farmers typically plant cotton between mid-April and early May.

e-mail: tblanchard@agcenter.lsu.edu