North Carolina farmers say they will plant more acres of cotton, sweet potatoes and wheat this year compared with 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Prospective Plantings report.

Farmers intend to plant less corn, soybeans and peanuts, the report said.

Cotton growers intend to plant 750,000 acres this year, 36 percent higher than last year’s acreage and the most since 2006.

“With cotton prices hovering close to $2 a pound, it’s not surprising to see farmers planning to grow more of it this year,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler.

Wheat already is in the ground, and its 700,000 acres represent a 40 percent increase over last year’s total and match the 2009 amount. The dip in wheat acreage in 2010 was the result of poor field conditions in the fall of 2009, Troxler said. “It was too wet to plant. But this past fall, conditions were good and wheat prices are still strong,” he said.

Farmers intend to plant 60,000 acres of sweet potatoes, up 5,000 from last year. North Carolina leads the nation in sweet potato production, and acreage has increased each year since 2005. Troxler attributes the growth to higher demand for sweet potatoes, both domestically and internationally.

Acreage of flue-cured tobacco is forecast to increase modestly this year, to 168,000 acres. Burley acres will remain unchanged at 2,300.

With cotton acreage growing, something had to give, which explains the 6 percent decrease in soybean acreage and 7 percent drop in peanut acreage, Troxler said. Corn acreage could drop by 2 percent. “We basically ran out of acres for soybeans, peanuts and corn,” he said. “There are only so many acres out there that can go into producing field crops, so you’ve got to have a tradeoff.

“I think we’re going to max out our available acreage this year,” Troxler said. “Farmers might break out whatever ground they think they can do something with.”

Troxler pointed out that weather, input costs and changes in commodity prices still could affect the acreage planted. “We’ll know more June 30, when the next USDA acreage report comes out,” he said.

The report is available online at www.ncagr.gov/stats/release/CropRelease03.pdf.