Flooding and frequent rainfall since has left Louisiana’s agriculture sector with an estimated $110 million in losses. Unfortunately, that number is likely to rise as the floodwaters recede.
“The $110 million estimate is based on very early reports,” says Kurt Guidry, LSU AgCenter agriculture economist. “As of yesterday (August 21), there were still some flooded areas in southwest Louisiana and, to some degree, south of Baton Rouge. So, a full assessment hasn’t been possible throughout all impacted areas.
The two hardest hit commodities in the state are rice and soybeans.
About 20 percent of rice acres were unharvested at the time of the flooding. “Some of the southwestern, coastal, heavy rice-growing parishes had significant flooding. I’m from that region and was there this weekend helping family members. There were a couple of farmers who had rice still underwater. One farmer had about 400 acres he couldn’t see – too much water. So, I’m afraid once the floodwaters go down we’ll see serious yield losses.”
Another issue for all commodities “is after the heavy rains that swept through a week ago, there has been pretty heavy rainfall every day. If the pattern continues, delayed harvest will be a problem.”
In the case of rice, wet conditions will affect the ratoon crop. “Many growers in southwest Louisiana rely on the second crop to be their ‘money’ crop. They make the majority of their profits on ratoon rice. Having to harvest in extremely wet conditions will really hamper the second crop.”
Guidry says many farmers have planted soybeans on fallow sugarcane ground. “When the flood came most of those soybeans were ready for harvest. They’d been sprayed and defoliated. For those that didn’t go underwater or where the waters receded quickly, it’s now a race against time to get into the fields and bring the beans in. Otherwise, we’ll see quantity, and probably more importantly, quality losses.
“As you move into the middle portion of the state, the soybeans are a bit younger. They haven’t been impacted as much. But, again, we need some drier conditions to harvest. It’s becoming a real concern.
“We have more soybean acres than anything else – 1.2 to 1.3 million acres with about 450,000 acres in the southern region. So, the total impact these rains could have on the industry as a whole is very large.”
At this point, sugarcane shouldn’t see a huge reduction in yield. “Cane is a resilient crop and, in talking with (LSU AgCenter) experts, there shouldn’t be too many problems yet.
“The bigger issue with cane is with having to replant. August and September is prime cane-planting time in Louisiana. We had about 15 percent of expected acres planted at the time of the storms. Many of those were flooded and still could be. There will be additional costs associated with replanting some of those acres.
“Several sugar mills have talked about beginning milling earlier this year. That would mean harvest starting about the third week of September. Well, with all the cane left to plant, that early harvest start will be very taxing on producers to have enough labor and resources to accomplish both. We could have some acres that don’t get planted simply because time runs out. Anytime cane doesn’t get planted that’s a large disruption because the crop is in a four- to five-year production cycle.”
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Livestock is a sector “hard to get a handle on. I feel pretty safe to say there will be livestock deaths – how large a number, I don’t know. Some of the heaviest flooding is where a larger percentage of the state’s livestock is located.”
Many Extension parish personnel “are dealing with their own homes being flooded and lost and things of that nature. It’s understandable how difficult it’s been getting solid livestock numbers in those areas.
“I think this flood will rival the one we had in March in north Louisiana. At that time, 500 to 600 head of cattle were lost. It’s not unreasonable to assume around the same number was lost in this August flood.”
A lot of fences are down and need repair -- another expense for cattlemen.
Another set of problems for the livestock sector: lost forage, lost grazing and food availability. “I’ve spoken with several cattlemen in the southern part of the state and they had several feet of water on pastures. We’re getting to a point where there are only a couple of months where the forage will be actively growing. Will the pastures underwater be able to come back quickly?
“We may not have any forage availability on those acres until next spring. If that’s the case, will producers have enough grass or hay to get through the winter?”
The forecast for the Baton Rouge area where Guidry is based “says there will be a 40 to 50 percent chance of rain the entire week (of August 22). It seems as though some of the hardest-hit areas keep getting precipitation. Last weekend, someone in the area said they got 1.5 inches of rain on Saturday (August 20). Someone who lives just south of Baton Rouge got 3 inches. The ground is saturated and we really need a run of dry days to allow growers back into the field.”
Guidry was in Acadia Parish over the weekend and saw one rice field a grower was trying to harvest. “It didn’t look like it was going too well. That was the only combine I saw working and I drove all over the parish. Of course, harvesting in moist soil will increase costs later when they have to fix rutted up areas.
Sprouting, consistent rains
“The consistent rains we’ve had since the flooding has led to grain sorghum and corn sprouting in the field. That can become a much bigger issue if harvest delays continue.
“Prior to the rains about a week ago, the state’s corn was only about 30 percent harvested and the grain sorghum was at 55 percent. You can see how the wet weather is really having implications for the whole state.”
About 15 to 20 percent of Louisiana’s cotton has open bolls and reports of boll rot and cotton sprouting in the field are “picking up.”
Guidry says the $110 million loss estimate is only for production losses and the impact on gross revenue. “There will also be impacts on quality issues, increased cost of production because of harvest inefficiencies, some stored commodities that were lost. For example, in southwest Louisiana about 80 percent of the rice was harvested and a lot of that goes into storage.
“The LSU AgCenter will continue to monitor this and do a more detailed assessment in the next several weeks. These numbers will be updated as we get new information.”