NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana's harvests this year include record yields for at least five crops — corn, soybeans, cotton, grain sorghum and rice — and sugarcane, still being harvested, could be close to a record, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
More irrigation, better crop varieties and luck with the weather are among reasons for the bounty, LSU AgCenter economist Kurt Guidry said.
Rice farmers got 6,500 pounds per acre, 180 more than last year's record, according to USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service. However, LSU rice expert John K. Saichuk cautioned that the AgCenter's more detailed survey is still going on, and a disease called blast may have cut rice yields below that estimate.
The USDA said grain sorghum yielded 100 bushels an acre, up 3 bushels from a mark set in 2005. Corn, soybeans and cotton broke marks set in 2007. Farmers averaged 44 bushels per acre for soybeans, up 1; 170 for corn, up 10; and 1,025 pounds of cotton per acre, up 8 pounds per acre.
"It's kind of a head-scratcher in terms of why we've had the yields we've had this year" because 2012 was relatively dry, Guidry said.
"But rains, when they came, were at opportune times," he said. "So even on dry-land production, crops didn't suffer and really had relatively very good growing conditions."
He said the growth of irrigation in Louisiana is probably a major reason. USDA surveys only recently began listing irrigated and "dry" acreage, he said, but its use has increased a great deal over the past five to 10 years, especially in north Louisiana. About two-thirds of the 530,000 acres of corn harvested this year had been irrigated, he said.
Drought in other parts of the country kept prices high for corn, soybeans, grain sorghum and wheat, with corn and soybeans selling at prices in the top 5 percent of all prices in history, Guidry said.
Corn paid $6 to $8 a bushel and is now about $7, and soybeans ran from $13 to $16 and are now about $13.50, he said.
Cotton prices are down from last year, and corn and soybean stocks are tight heading into 2013. That means farmers may move some land from cotton to the other two crops, Guidry said.
Louisiana farmers harvested more than 1.1 million acres of soybeans; 220,000 acres of cotton; 400,000 acres of rice; and 105,000 of grain sorghum. They also are harvesting 420,000 acres of sugar cane.
Yields in the northeast were fantastic, with dry weather bringing good yields.
"It's a combination of weather, the better varieties we have today and better management — but weather makes a huge difference, always," Saichuk said.
But he said the disease hit hard in south Louisiana fields growing a strain that is cultivated because it is naturally resistant to some herbicides.
He also noted that the number of pounds per acre isn't everything. In the past couple of years, he said, the AgCenter has released varieties with lower yields but better grain quality than some currently popular varieties.
"We may see yields drop a little bit in an effort to supply good quality rice," he said.
He said state records show 395,000 acres in rice, though that acreage could decline if prices don't improve.
And, he said, even if the state hits 6,500 pounds an acre this year, it wouldn't be a record under state figures. "We've broken that more than once," he said.
State figures set the record yield at last year's 6,717 pounds per acre. It is not uncommon for LSU's figures to sometimes differ from those calculated by federal officials.