BATON ROUGE, LA--Some Louisiana cotton farmers are considering switching to corn after a poor season last year and bad financial news this year.
Farmers and the lenders who support them don't know what kind of federal financial support to expect because the U.S. Senate did not take up a farm bill before ending the 2001 legislative year.
Late rains hurt last year's cotton harvest and this year's cotton prices are lower than last. Low prices meant cotton farmers lost an average of $125 per acre last year, said Bob Odom, state agriculture commissioner.
Odom said many cotton farmers may decide to switch to corn, because it's considered more stable and less expensive to plant.
"It's a tough decision for the farmer and the lender when you look at the numbers," he said.
Many farmers returned to cotton over the past few years when cotton crop insurance costs dropped. After rains ruined much of last year's crop, however, insurance did not make up the shortfalls in production and price.
The number of acres growing cotton rose from 535,000 in 1998 to 870,000 in 2001. Cotton prices have declined from about 60 cents a pound in 1998 to an average of 39 cents a pound last year.
The price for cotton is now about 30 to 32 cents per pound and has dipped as low as 29 cents, said David Bollick, a grain marketing specialist with the Farm Bureau Marketing Association.
Corn crops covered about 315,000 acres in Louisiana last year. Corn prices have remained steady, at $1.80 to $1.90 a bushel since last year.
Corn has not historically turned the profit margin that cotton can, but it's a safer bet because it costs less to plant, Odom said.
"The margin of profit may be low, but it beats losing money on every acre," Odom said.