Louisiana farmers set several yield records in 2012

Staff Writer
Donaldsonville Chief

BATON ROUGE, La. – Despite drought conditions and a hurricane, 2012 was an excellent year for Louisiana farmers. Many of the state's major commodities saw record yields and historically high prices.

LSU AgCenter economist Kurt Guidry said good production practices and a lot of luck with the weather helped.

"We were relatively dry overall. But in many cases, we got just enough rain to keep the crops growing," Guidry said.

Corn, soybeans, rice, cotton and grain sorghum all set yield records this year.

Corn farmers averaged 170 bushels per acre, 10 bushels higher than the previous record. At 44 bushels per acre, soybeans were up one bushel above the last record, which was set in 2007. Grain sorghum was at 100 bushels, up about three bushels from its former record. Cotton farmers harvested 1,025 pounds per acre. The previous record was 1,017 pounds. Yields per acre of rice were 6,500 pounds, surpassing the record set in 2011 at 6,320 pounds.

Farmers are still harvesting the state's sugarcane crop, and yields so far are at record levels.

Drought in other parts of the country kept prices high for corn, soybeans, grain sorghum and wheat. Prices have moderated, but Guidry expects them to remain strong.

The economist predicts good corn and soybean prices will lead to a shift in acreage in 2013 away from cotton into those commodities. Both corn and soybeans also have tight stocks heading into 2013.

Acreage also may shift slightly from rice where low prices this year were helped by good yields, said Mike Salassi, also an AgCenter economist.

"The one thing that can lower production costs per unit is an increase in yields, and certainly those higher yields are going to help," Salassi said.

Sugarcane acreage was up slightly this year at 425,000, but prices were down. Salassi said prices the past two years were above 30 cents a pound but have dipped this year closer to 25 cents.

"You can't just look at yields and market prices and determine whether growers are better off. But, by and large, this has been a good year," Salassi said.

Sweet potato acres were around 11,000 in 2012, and that number may go down slightly in 2013 as farmers switch to soybeans, said Tara Smith, extension sweet potato specialist and coordinator at the Sweet Potato Research Station in Chase.

"Overall, we harvested a good quality crop," Smith said, adding that she expects sweet potato acres to go up in future years.

The winter wheat crop in the Midwest is experiencing some problems because of drought conditions in that region. Guidry said that means wheat prices should stay strong.

Louisiana's 2013 wheat crop has already been planted. Farmers harvested around 280,000 acres of wheat in 2012, and they planted more than 300,000 acres for next year with the promise of high prices.

In 2013, farmers could see a decrease in the costs of raising crops, Guidry said. Fertilizer prices are down from earlier this year. He doesn't expect the price to stay this low but says it will likely be lower overall next year from what farmers saw in 2012.

"We may see prices trend down here over the next month or so. But once we get into February, March and April, we'll probably see the increased demand start to impact prices," Guidry said.

He also said fuel prices are projected to be lower in the early part of next year.

The agriculture industry in Louisiana was worth about $6 billion in 2011. With high prices and yields, that number will likely be higher in 2012.