Louisiana producers planted 170,000 fewer acres of rice this spring, a decrease of almost one-third from last year's 530,000-acre crop, according to the USDA's June 30 Acreage Report.

Rice specialists said the 32-percent decline to 360,000 acres was mostly due to salt levels left on the soil by Hurricane Rita, the storm that struck southwest Louisiana and east Texas one month after Hurricane Katrina devastated Louisiana and Mississippi.

But last year's low prices and continuing economic problems also took their toll. “We know of some fairly prominent farmers who have just gotten out of the business,” said John Saichuk, Extension rice specialist with the LSU AgCenter. “They couldn't face another year with the problems we've had.”

The USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service also said U.S. cotton farmers increased their plantings by almost 1 million acres this spring, exceeding 15 million acres for the first time since 2001.

“Until today's report, we've been hanging around 13.5 million acres to the low 14 million,” said Gary Adams, the National Cotton Council's vice president for economics and farm policy. “I think the 15.28 million acres — up from 2005's 14.25 million — in today's report was a little higher than the trade expected.”

Adams said most of the increased cotton acres in the Mid-South came from corn and rice. “Some farmers thought about the amounts of fertilizer they would have to apply to get the kind of yields they need and decided to switch. That and you look at the kind of cotton yields we've had the last two years, and cotton made the most sense of any crop.”

USDA said cotton producers increased acreages in all states except Mississippi, New Mexico, Arizona and California. Mississippi growers planted the same acreage — 1.21 million — that they did last year, and cotton acreage has been on the decline in Arizona, New Mexico and California due to urban encroachment and higher water costs.

California growers did plant a record 290,000 acres of Pima cotton, a gain of 60,000 acres from 2005, according to USDA. All told, American Pima growers planted 360,000 acres, up 24 percent from last year.

Elsewhere in the Mid-South, USDA raised its acreage forecasts for Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Tennessee by a little over a quarter of a million acres. Tennessee's projected plantings of 700,000 acres of cotton was the highest for the state since 1995.

USDA is predicting acreage declines for most of the U.S.-rice producing states: Arkansas, from 1.64 million to 1.47 million; California, from 528,000 to 526,000; Louisiana, from 530,000 to 360,000; Mississippi, from 265,000 to 190,000; and Texas, from 202,000 to 150,000 acres. Missouri's acreage was expected to remain the same at 216,000.

Mid-South corn plantings are also expected to be down with Arkansas' acreage falling from 240,000 to 170,000; Louisiana's from 340,000 to 300,000; Mississippi's from 380,000 to 300,000; and Tennessee's from 650,000 to 600,000. Statewide, Missouri's acreage is forecast to decline from 3.1 million to 2.75 million.

Nationally, USDA is estimating U.S. corn acreage at 79.4 million, down 3 percent from 2005 and 2 percent below 2004. But the acreage is up 2 percent from what growers reported in the Agriculture Department's March Planting Intentions Report.

Mid-South soybean growers reportedly have planted almost 300,000 more acres in 2006 compared to 2005. Arkansas farmers raised their acreage from 3.03 million to 3.15 million and Mississippi from 1.61 million to 1.8 million. Louisiana growers reduced plantings from 880,000 to 820,000 acres and Tennessee from 1.13 million to 112 million. Statewide, Missouri increased its plantings from 5 million to 5.2 million.