Linda F. Benedict | 10/4/2004 4:23:44 AM
Wet weather rather than climbing fuel and fertilizer costs is keeping Louisiana farmers from planting corn, according to an expert with the LSU AgCenter.
But Dr. David Lanclos at the LSU AgCenter’s Dean Lee Research Station says it’s unfortunate nature and energy prices are coming together at this time.
"There’s not a whole lot farmers are doing right now," Lanclos said. "Fertilizer costs are a concern, and there are rumors of acreage shift – but not dramatic for Louisiana."
Lanclos said initial estimates for corn planting in the state ranged from 500,000 to 600,000 acres, but whether those are fulfilled depends on weather during the next few days.
"Less than 10,000 acres have been planted, and it should be about half of the estimate (in the ground now)," Lanclos said.
If rain keeps corn planters out of the field until after the first of April, farmers will likely shift to soybeans, which can be planted later.
If the weather cooperates and corn planting resumes, Lanclos sees "maybe a 10 percent reduction in corn acreage because of higher fuel and fertilizer costs."
The higher cost of fertilizer is primarily in nitrogen – a major plant nutrient for corn and rice – which is produced from natural gas.
"Farmers are looking at efficient ways to grow crops," said Dr. Rick Mascagni, an agronomist at the LSU AgCenter’s Northeast Research Station in St. Joseph.
Mascagni said farmers are asking "how low can I go" in fertilizer rates without losing significant yield.
He also said corn planting hasn’t yet started in Northeast Louisiana and added that he expects if the weather patterns don’t change soon, acreage will be diverted from corn to soybeans and sorghum as it gets too late in the season for corn planting.
In addition to the cost of nitrogen fertilizer, farmers also are facing the prospects of increased costs for diesel fuel for their tractors, trucks and other machinery.
Lanclos said fuel stocks in inventory now were purchased before the prices skyrocketed, so farmers will get started with lower-priced fuels.
Dr. Johnny Saichuk, a rice specialist with the LSU AgCenter in Crowley, sees much the same for rice farmers.
"At this point with rice the major concern is pumping costs," Saichuk said. "Farm pumps run on diesel fuel.
"The price of diesel is way up. If it’s a dry year, pumping can become extremely expensive," he added.
Saichuk said pumping costs reflect the weather, and rice farmers are thankful for the spring rains providing water that doesn’t have to be pumped.
"Farmers are doing everything they can to conserve every drop of water," Saichuk said.
Saichuk said he expects to see more rice planted in water this year because of the abundant rainfall. On the other hand, he added the costs of aerial application will be higher because of the cost of airplane fuel.
With nitrogen fertilizer selling for more than $200 a ton, rice farmers "will be doing everything on the conservative side," Saichuk said.
Saichuk added that Louisiana rice farmers already have planned for about a 20 percent reduction in acreage based on economic factors beyond the costs of fuel and fertilizer, so higher energy prices probably won’t lead to much additional reduction.
"Not much more than 1 percent or so," Saichuk said of his estimate of any more reduction in rice acreage. "The acres that are planned are going to be planted."
Saichuk agreed with Lanclos that current fuel stocks, while not enough not to last through the entire season, will allow farmers to get through the spring with lower energy costs than if they had to buy their fuel in today’s market.
David Lanclos at (318) 473-6530 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Rick Mascagni at (318) 766-3769 or email@example.com
Johnny Saichuk at (337) 788-7547 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Rick Bogren at (225) 578-5839 or email@example.com