Nearly 100 farmers heard ways to improve the quality and yield potential of cotton, corn and soybeans from LSU AgCenter experts at a Jan. 18 northeast Louisiana crop forum.

Kurt Guidry, LSU AgCenter economist, addressed supply and demand fundamentals, saying soybean has stable world production, cotton has reduced stocks and tight supplies and corn is in strong demand.

The soybean outlook is positive in terms of exports, Guidry said. “As with soybeans, China is the major player in where our cotton is going.”

Corn had significantly lower-than-expected yields, and farmers who grow it are facing increasing energy prices.

Fertilizer prices are rising because energy is getting more expensive, said John Kruse, LSU AgCenter cotton and feed grain specialist. “The price of nitrogen was stable up until the Arab oil embargo, when it doubled and never came back down.

“Most folks I’m talking to seem to think cotton acreage is going to continue to increase. The good news is there are many varieties to choose from this coming year.” 

Kruse said cotton should be planted from late April to mid-May and recommends about two to three plants per row foot.

Corn could be planted from late February in south Louisiana up to mid-April in north Louisiana. After that, yield potential drops dramatically. 

Irrigation helps reduce aflatoxin, Kruse added. “There’s no question corn responds positively to irrigation. We didn’t see any aflatoxin last year, thankfully.”

Corn needs about two inches of water per week, in general. “Make sure you think of adequate soil moisture from an early point,” Kruse said.

Ron Levy, LSU AgCenter soybean specialist, said the optimum planting period for soybeans is mid- to late April. Soybeans should be planted when the soil temperature is at least 60 degrees and the forecast is for warm weather.

“There is a significant yield increase when we get below 30-inch rows,” Levy said.

Using insecticides, fungicides and harvest aids at the right time improves soybean yield, Levy said. “You need to treat each field as an individual – as a child.”

Levy said LSU AgCenter county agents have publications to help select varieties that will perform best in northeast Louisiana. “Variety selection should be your No. 1 goal.”

“Do you ever take a trip without a road map?” asked J Stevens, LSU AgCenter Extension agronomist, addressing the importance of soil testing before planting. He explained that the LSU AgCenter provides research-based fertilizer recommendations from its Soil Testing and Plant Analysis Laboratory. Routine soil tests cost $10.

Stevens said the LSU AgCenter has processed 13,000 producer samples per year over the past three to five years and can easily handle up to 48,000 samples per year.

 Roger Leonard, LSU AgCenter entomologist, cautioned growers about insects reducing yield and said that farmers were fortunate there was a low population of the red-banded stink bug in 2010.

Bill Williams, LSU AgCenter weed scientist, addressed timely herbicide applications, saying ryegrass and Johnson grass are the biggest problems right now.

Karen Nix, LSU AgCenter pesticide safety coordinator, spoke on drift management, saying it is a problem because it wastes chemicals, resulting in higher costs. She told the farmers to follow label directions, understand the ingredients and analyze the weather before applying.

“Wind takes droplets to non-targeted areas,” Nix said. “Wind greater than eight miles per hour increases drift.”