U.S. farmers will plant more cotton, soybeans and rice and fewer acres of corn than last year, according to USDA's March 30, Prospective Plantings Report.

The acreage estimates were based on farmer surveys conducted the first two weeks of March. The operators were contacted by mail, telephone, or personal interviews to obtain information on crop acreage planned for the 2001 crop year.

Cotton plantings for 2001 are expected to total 15.6 million acres, up less than 1 percent from last year. If intentions are realized, this would be the largest acreage since 1995 and the second largest since 1962. Low cotton prices and high energy costs have limited any significant increase in planting intentions, according to USDA.

Upland cotton acreage is expected to total 15.4 million acres, 29,000 acres above 2000. Growers intend to plant 220,000 acres of American-Pima cotton, up 28 percent from last year.

Cotton acreage increased by 15 percent in Mississippi, the largest increase of any state. Louisiana cotton acreage rose 13 percent, Arkansas, 9 percent and Tennessee 5 percent, while Missouri Bootheel acreage remained the same.

Other large increases over last year include North Carolina, 13 percent, Kansas, 10 percent and Arizona, 9 percent. The largest declines were in New Mexico, 13 percent and California and Florida, each at 8 percent.

Soybean producers intend to plant 76.7 million acres in 2001, up 3 percent from last year. If realized, this will be the largest planted area for soybeans on record. Of the 31 soybean producing states, producers in 22 states intend to plant more acres this year, while producers in 8 states intend to plant fewer acres than in 2000

Meanwhile, soybean acreage dropped by 12 percent from last year in Louisiana and Mississippi and declined by 11 percent in Tennessee. Arkansas soybean acreage declined 3 percent.

U.S. rice acreage is up 30,000 acres, according to USDA. Meanwhile rice acreage in the Mid-South increased by 11 percent in Louisiana, 9 percent in Missouri and 2 percent in Mississippi. Acreage dropped by 1 percent in Arkansas. Acreage dropped in California and rose slightly in Texas.

Corn growers intend to plant 76.7 million acres of corn for all purposes in 2001, down 4 percent from 2000 and down 1 percent from 1999. Expected acreage is down in almost all areas of the United States due mostly to the high cost of inputs and low price prospects.

Farmers intentions shifted away from corn in Texas and Louisiana as planting was hampered by frequent rains during the spring. Corn acreage slipped 26 percent from last year in Louisiana, from 380,000 acres to 280,000 acres, the largest drop of any Mid-South state.

Dry soils and lack of water reserves in the Southeast reduced intended corn plantings there. The only region where farmers intend to plant more corn is in the Northeast where cool, wet weather last spring prevented many corn acres from being planted.

Sorghum plantings are expected to total 9.37 million acres, up 2 percent from last year. All wheat planted area is expected to total 60.3 million acres in 2001. This is down 4 percent from 2000 and the lowest level since 1973.

Wheat plantings dropped from last month in every Mid-South state, with the largest drop coming in Mississippi, 18 percent.

Twenty four percent of all crops planted in the United States in 2001 will be biotechnology varieties, according to USDA. That's a 1 percent drop from last year.

In cotton, biotechnology varieties will be planted on 63 percent of all cotton acreage, compared to 54 percent last year. In Mississippi and Louisiana, 86 percent of all cotton will be planted in biotechnology varieties.

e-mail: elton_robinson@intertec.com