Our Views: Once the king, cotton declines

Once the king of Louisiana agriculture, cotton acreage is now down to levels not seen since 1866 — when there was a bit of a disruption in normal economic activity in this region.

That striking date from LSU AgCenter economist John Westra is one of the findings from a new report on the boom that is caused on farms, but not because of a once-staple product like cotton. Because of higher prices for corn and soybeans, cotton fields are being turned to those uses.

The rise in corn and soybean prices, along with higher yields, fueled the boom in farm income. Westra told the Press Club of Baton Rouge that forests and farms in the state generated $11.4 billion last year, about a 6.5 percent increase.

Some of that rise is from good luck: Other parts of the country suffered from droughts that hurt farmers. “There’s no doubt that we benefited from drought conditions in other parts of the country,” Westra said.

Weather has not been entirely our friend: Crawfish production suffered a bit from dry conditions and cold temperatures in 2012.

Still, despite the implications of local or national weather events, Westra’s presentation underlined the impact of a growing demand for commodities worldwide. As China, India, Brazil and other populous nations grow and develop their middle-class work force, the demand for food and fiber for the world is only going to increase.

Louisiana is poised to benefit even more as fisheries and farms contribute more products to what is a global marketplace. But to do that, the nation must continue its efforts to create barrier-free trade with more countries around the world.

Today’s records in farm income, though, represent a very welcome economic boost for the state.