NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- For the second year in a row, Louisiana farmers have planted fewer acres of cotton than ever recorded.
A new record low had been expected. But the estimated 125,000 acres are 50,000 fewer even than what was predicted earlier this year.
Farmers are switching to soybeans and corn because prices are better and the crops are less expensive to grow, said LSU AgCenter cotton specialist David Kerns.
"It boils down to economics and what the farmers can make the most money on, and cotton prices have been suppressed in recent years," he said.
A decade ago the state's farmers were planting as much as 800,000 acres of cotton.
Farmers harvested about 225,000 acres last year. That was the previous record low since Louisiana began tracking cotton production in 1866.
Four cotton gins closed last year, leaving 28 open, according to the AgCenter. Some were dismantled and the equipment sold, while others are waiting for a rebound in cotton planting.
"Louisiana farmers are very loyal to the crop," said David Crigler, executive vice president of the Louisiana Cotton and Grain Association. "Many attribute their successful careers to growing cotton over the years. And while a period of high grain prices has led to a decline in cotton acreage, Louisiana producers will not turn their backs on cotton."
When acreage goes up, the existing gins could process more cotton, Crigler said.
"The ones that are operating have become more efficient over the years and will be able to handle increased volume as cotton acreage rises," Crigler said.
The cold, damp spring slowed cotton planting. Later-planted cotton can experience more problems during the growing season. It may develop boll rot, is more vulnerable to hurricanes and tropical storms, and will likely see more insect infestations.
Kerns confirmed that this will be an active year for insects in cotton. He said growers are already seeing high numbers of tarnished plant bugs, the major insect pest in cotton.
"With the good, wet spring you get a lot of wild hosts for them to live off," Kerns said.
Damage from tarnished plant bugs can result in delayed crop maturity and yield loss.