I think it is obvious to most of us that farms in parts of Louisiana are in desperate need of rainfall in some regions. Whether it is La Niña, global warming, or the glaciers melting, we are obviously in a pattern of hot, dry weather.
Some regions of the state, including central, southwest and south central Louisiana, have not received enough attention. This would be the crossroads of central Louisiana, the rice belt and the sugarcane belt respectively.
The little town of Washington, La., located right off I-49 just north of Opelousas, seems to be on the dividing line between the areas that might get a little rain to farm and areas that get no rain at all. The no-rain-at-all scenario seems to be predominant in that area of the state southward.
Unfortunately, these regions of the state — especially central and southwest Louisiana — have had little appreciable rainfall in months. According to Jay Grymes, LSU climatologist, much of south Louisiana is enduring a drought that traces back as much as a year or more. “Parts of the state have been suffering for quite some time. In the southern third of Louisiana, the dry spell goes back to the beginnings of 2005, and even sections of northern Louisiana have been dealing with dry weather over the past 12 to 15 months.”
Grymes pointed out that in Baton Rouge, 12 of the past 14 months have had below-normal rainfall. The only exceptions were August and September, which correspond to hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Much of south-central and southeastern Louisiana is showing a similar drought trend for the past year.
“Without the hurricanes, it could have been 14 consecutive months of below-normal rainfall,” Grymes said. “This past March was one of the driest — if not the driest — Marches on record for a large portion of south Louisiana, and this extremely dry spring weather has persisted through the first half of April, as well.”
Grymes is concerned about the next six to eight weeks, because spring rains, which generally recharge soil moisture, haven't come.
He pointed me to the Web site for the U.S. Drought Monitor. The address is http://www.drought.unl.edu/dm/monitor.html.
According to this site the lower third of the state is classified as under an extreme drought and the parishes just north of this area, central Louisiana, are classified as severe.
In these three regions, little or no corn was planted. Only in the areas where some rainfall had been received was any planted. Producers who worked ground last fall had a greater chance of getting planted. The folks who worked ground in the early spring lost a great deal of moisture simply because they worked the ground and moisture ran out.
The predicament is somewhat bleaker for soybean producers who wanted to plant a couple of weeks ago or who want to plant now. There is simply not enough moisture to plant the soybean crop in the dry regions of the state. We will need at least a 2-inch rain in the majority of those fields before we can begin planting.
We're not too late yet. According to our research, late April is a great time to plant Group 4 varieties. Some folks have planted Group 5 varieties, too. Our planting window in Louisiana is wide, and we have plenty of time left to go. But, at some point it does need to rain more than a scattered shower.
We received some rain the weekend of April 22-23, but not enough overall.
On the soybean verification run April 24, many fields, especially with corn planted, were showing signs of drought stress. Irrigation had begun is some of the driest fields.
The past few years for southwest Louisiana have been extremely difficult. Farmers are struggling more financially this year than ever before, and to add injury to insult, Mother Nature is not cooperating.
The old saying, “If you don't like the weather in Louisiana wait five minutes,” is not applicable. We have waited and things have been very slow to change. If we cannot get the crops in because of this severe drought (which is already the case for corn and milo in some fields), we need to explain to those who are making the financial loan decisions that our hands are tied until we get some rain.
David Y. Lanclos is the soybean, corn and grain sorghum specialist at LSU AgCenter. e-mail: [email protected]