Farmers Dan Bedgood and Erick Cherene of Madison Parish, La., have a quick answer when asked to describe the upcoming growing season in North Louisiana. “A lot of corn,” they said in unison.

The farming partners were among more than 200 people who attended the LSU AgCenter Corn and Soybean Forum at the Rayville Civic Center in Rayville, La.

Bedgood and Cherene said they planted 1,000 acres of corn in 2006, but they will plant up to 4,000 acres of corn this year. They still plan to have some acreage in soybeans and cotton, but they said they're not sure how much of those they'll plant.

“For sure, less cotton,” Bedgood said.

LSU AgCenter county agent Keith Collins of Richland Parish said last year's Louisiana corn acreage of more than 300,000 acres could double this year, and the state's soybean acreage of 830,000 acres is projected to remain static — although Collins said he expects northeast Louisiana farmers to have an increase in soybeans.

Last year's state average soybean yield set a record with 35 bushels an acre.

LSU AgCenter grain specialist David Lanclos said with higher commodity prices, corn farmers will be considering fungicides, even though fungal diseases on a corn crop typically do not have devastating effects on yields like the diseases on rice and soybeans. He said research results are mixed concerning whether fungicides can help corn yields.

“We are not recommending fungicides be applied on corn this year,” Lanclos said. “But I encourage you to try some on a few acres and leave some untreated test strips for comparison.”

Lanclos said tests conducted by some of the agrichemical companies suggest there may be some value in applying fungicides to increase yields of corn, adding, however, that more research is needed before the practice could be recommended by LSU AgCenter scientists.

In another report during the forum, Wyly Gilfoil, director of the Port of Lake Providence, said work is progressing on an ethanol facility at the port.

When the plant is ready by late 2008 or early 2009 it will have the capacity to use 30 million bushels of corn a year to produce 100 million gallons of ethanol, Gilfoil said. The Massachusetts company building the plant, BioEnergy International LLC, has plans to double the facility's capacity in five years, he said.

Gilfoil said government funding to maintain a navigable channel to the port is needed to allow access for barges hauling corn. In addition, he said, negotiations are under way for rail service.

Gilfoil said the plant expects to buy corn from grain dealers and directly from farmers. It will have storage facilities for a 10-day to two-week supply, he said.

That was good news for farmer Vic Jordan of Rayville. He said the limited storage capacity at the plant could mean farmers will be paid to store their grain until the ethanol facility needs it.

Jordan is expecting a good year for 2007 from his anticipated acreage of 2,100 acres of corn, 1,200 acres of soybeans and 500 to 700 acres of cotton.

“This will be the first year in a long time that we could see an actual profit,” he said, adding that the 2007 crop will benefit from this winter's rainfall.

Jordan said he isn't putting all his resources into row crops, however. He has 100 head of Angus cattle in a cow-calf operation that he hopes to double in three years, and he said he hasn't been affected much by higher feed prices because he relies mostly on grass feeding.

During the forum, LSU AgCenter experts provided farmers with advice on a wide range of topics.

Rick Mascagni, LSU AgCenter agronomist, said a plant population of 25,000 plants per acre or less is adequate on dryland corn, but plant population on irrigated corn could be increased to 30,000 per acre if varieties are chosen carefully for high stalk and root strength ratings.

Steve Moore, LSU AgCenter plant pathologist, said he and other scientists around the United States are working to develop corn varieties that have resistance to aflatoxin — a toxic compound that can be produced as a result of certain growing conditions. In addition, LSU AgCenter research is being conducted on the possible use of the Liberty herbicide to control aflatoxin, but results have been contradictory, he said.

Moore also advised farmers to plant corn hybrids with a proven track record for Louisiana. He said with the tight seed supply it may be tempting to buy more readily available seed from the Midwest states that are not suited for Southern growing conditions, but it could result in crop failure.

Richard Letlow, LSU AgCenter county agent in Ouachita and Morehouse parishes, showed farmers a worksheet that can be used to determine how much irrigation water is required on a crop. Letlow said a moisture deficit can quickly decrease yields by 7 to 8 percent that can't be regained. Irrigation of a flowering soybean crop can be especially beneficial to yield, he said.

J Stevens, LSU AgCenter agronomist, told farmers they need to be mindful of replacing nutrients to the soil that are removed by crops. He said phosphorus and potassium deficiencies are common in soils from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya river basins.

Soil samples in Louisiana showed 78 percent needed phosphorus and 74 percent needed potassium, he said.

Boyd Padgett, LSU AgCenter plant pathologist, said Asian soybean rust seems to be emerging earlier since it was first found in the United States more than two years ago.

So far this year, he said, it has been detected in five counties in Alabama, eight in Florida and five in Georgia. That tends to suggest weather patterns have kept the disease away from Louisiana, Padgett said, but it's not known whether Asian soybean rust spores are present in Mexico, which could affect Louisiana.

The LSU AgCenter plans to have a toll-free number that will help to keep growers advised of locations where the disease has been found, he said.

Bob Hutchinson, LSU AgCenter director for the Northeast Region, reminded producers that most of the AgCenter funding is from the state legislature, but he said federal funding is also crucial for research and extension work, and local money from parish governments is vital to Extension offices.

He said much of the research used presentations at the meeting was made possible from projects funded by checkoff money allocated by the Louisiana Soybean Grain Research and Promotion Board.