Excessive rain in Louisiana might be just what the cotton crop needs to continue rallying its acreage — particularly if wet weather keeps farmers out of fields during the optimum times for planting corn.

LSU AgCenter cotton specialist John Barnett said corn planting season is under way, but rain that has been drowning Louisiana has kept farmers out of the corn fields.

“With all of this wet weather preventing corn planting, prospects for even more cotton being planted in Louisiana increases,” Barnett said. “At this point we estimate the acreage to be planted in cotton around the 800,000 acre mark. But who knows? We may reach beyond that figure before the planting season is over.”

The LSU AgCenter recommends planting corn between March 1 and April 15, depending on the area of the state. Recommendations for cotton call for it to be planted between April 20 and May 10 — although Barnett said some cotton may be planted before the optimum planting dates.

The major problem for corn farmers is that the clock is ticking and rains continue.

“As we get closer to April 15, the potential for maximum yields declines,” said LSU AgCenter plant scientist Walter Morrison. “The big thing farmers are concerned about right now is their idea that it may be too late to plant corn in some areas of the state already. But it's really not too late to plant at this point.”

Some farmers are approaching the point of making decisions, however, because of the overlap in planting dates for corn and cotton.

“Some farmers in places like central Louisiana and southern Louisiana may start planting cotton as early as April 10,” Barnett said. “But normally, the period between April 20 and May 10 is when most cotton is planted.”

Figures from the LSU AgCenter show cotton farmers planted just under 700,000 acres last year, while corn was grown on approximately 375,000 acres in 2000.

As for recommendations to cotton producers, Barnett says as Louisiana cotton farmers move into the planting season, they should pay close attention to the stand.

“A uniform stand is very important to achieving a good yield and maintaining good fiber quality,” he said. “A good seeding rate is two to three plants per foot of row, or one plant every 4 to 6 inches in rows spaced 30 to 40 inches apart.”

Research has shown higher plant populations reduce yield, Barnett said. Lower plant populations tend to reduce harvesting efficiency of spindle pickers and may reduce yield, he said.

“We recommend all cotton seeding rates be based on seed per foot, not pounds per acre,” Barnett said. “This will give a much more accurate measure of the plant population that you are going to achieve. Take a little time and calibrate your planters before starting to put out the seeding rate you want. You'll probably be glad you did.”

The LSU AgCenter recommends cotton be planted on a raised bed, Barnett said. The rows should be spaced 30 to 40 inches apart. Rows spaced 38 to 40 inches apart generally are the accepted standard, he said.

“There is one situation where flat planting would be acceptable,” Barnett said. “This is in ultra narrow row production.”