Ouachita Parish Extension Chairman Richard Letlow left Chris Johnson and Blair Sherman discuss the impact of floodwaters on cropland in the fields behind them

Ouachita Parish Extension Chairman Richard Letlow, left, Chris Johnson and Blair Sherman discuss the impact of floodwaters on cropland in the fields behind them.

Record flooding hitting Louisiana corn hard

Dan Fromme, LSU AgCenter Extension corn specialist, said corn farmers had planted roughly 30,000 acres in an eight-parish area of north Louisiana, or about 8 percent of the state’s total corn acreage in 2014.

Louisiana’s recently planted corn crop appears to be the biggest agricultural casualty from widespread flooding across the state.

Dan Fromme, LSU AgCenter Extension corn specialist, said corn farmers had planted roughly 30,000 acres in an eight-parish area of north Louisiana, or about 8 percent of the state’s total corn acreage in 2014.

Corn seed and seedlings will suffer from being flooded because of the lack of oxygen in the water-logged soil, said Dr. Fromme, who is based at the Dean Lee Research and Extension Center near Alexandria.

Whether fields will have to be replanted is uncertain, according to Fromme. “You really won’t be certain for four to five days after the water subsides.”

Replanting could cost roughly $140 an acre for seed and $100 an acre for fertilizer in addition to fuel costs. “And it will be hard getting seed to replant,” Fromme added.

Richard Letlow, LSU AgCenter Extension agent in Ouachita Parish, said 15 to 20 percent of the corn crop in Ouachita and Morehouse parishes had been planted. Excessive moisture will complicate corn planting. “It is early in the planting window. However, wet conditions will push all corn planting toward the back end of this planting period.”

More rain in forecast

An estimated that 20,000 to 30,000 acres of unplanted corn acreage is underwater in his area, said Keith Collins, LSU AgCenter county agent in Richland Parish. “It’s going to delay planting. If we could stay dry with no more rain, we may not see much of an impact. But if we get more rain, which is forecast later this week, it could cause a delay.”

Collins said 10 to 15 percent of corn acreage there has been planted. “There will be a tremendous amount of replant because it stayed underwater too long.”

If the wet ground keeps farmers out of the fields after mid-April, corn farmers will have to turn to other options, such as soybeans.

Jason Holmes, LSU AgCenter county agent in Union Parish, said packets of information from the LSU AgCenter are being distributed to help homeowners cope with flood-damaged homes.

Pastureland will also be affected by flooding.

“The biggest concern I have is for annual ryegrass pastures,” said LSU AgCenter forage specialist Ed Twidwell. “These pastures haven't been growing all that well this winter because of the excessive moisture received, so the areas that received a lot of rain will only make this problem worse.”

Warmer temperatures could help

Annual ryegrass can probably survive under flooded conditions for about 48 hours, but longer periods of flooding will kill ryegrass plants from the lack of oxygen.

“Once the floodwaters recede, the warm-season grasses such as bermudagrass and bahiagrass should begin to grow in these pastures,” says Twidwell.

With temperatures in the 70s and 80s, warm-season grasses should begin to green up fairly quickly. “They can handle wet conditions much better than annual ryegrass.”

In southwest Louisiana, most of the water has drained from rice fields, but the heavy rainfall interrupted planting for many farmers.

Steve Linscombe, director of the LSU AgCenter H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station near Crowley, said rice farmers who planned to drill-seed their crop are waiting for the soil to dry, but he said many had already started planting.

“I’d say we probably have 30 percent planted in south Louisiana,” Dr. Linscombe noted.

Kurt Guidry, LSU AgCenter economist, said the state’s wheat crop has dwindled to only 50,000 acres and not much of it was flooded.

If corn farmers have to replant 18,000 acres of the 30,000 planted, the cost would exceed $2.5 million, he said. He has received reports of several hundred head of cattle lost from the floods. The lost grazing from flooded pastures will cost cattle operations also, he said.

Ryon Walker, LSU AgCenter cattle researcher at the Hill Farm Research Station, said flooding caused considerable infrastructure damage in northwest Louisiana because of hilly terrain there. Fences, barns and roads have been affected, he said. “Much of the hay may be worthless.”

Several LSU AgCenter agents are helping to move cattle to higher ground.

“We’ll also see a huge effect in the coming months as the rivers north of us continue to flow into the Red River,” Walker said. “So in April, May and June we’re going to be dealing with this.”

The Texas Department of Transportation reported I-10 near the Louisiana-Texas border had been closed due to rising flood waters. TDOT recommended growers travel north to I-20 to avoid the flooding.

For more information, visit www.agcenter.edu.

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