History will remember the Mississippi River/tributary backwater flooding and the levee breaches (intentional or otherwise) of The Great Flood of 2011, but in south Louisiana, this spring has been all about the drought.
“It’s ironic that everybody is worried about the Mississippi River flooding us out, and at the same time, we’re over here hurting for rain,” said Johnny Saichuk, Extension rice specialist for Louisiana.
From its western border to just past Lafayette, south Louisiana has been under moderate to severe drought stress for quite some time. “When you look at the Calcasieu River and Mermentau river basins, there is no fresh water coming down,” Saichuk said. “As those water supplies are depleted, the water from the marshes and the Gulf creep in and you end up with salty water. We’re running into that in the lower parts of Vermilion, Jefferson Davis and Calcasieu parishes. It’s a real problem. For years, those producers have depended on surface water. Most years, they have more than enough. This time they don’t.”
The rice crop in the state got off to a good start, noted Saichuk, but then seemed to stall. “Two weeks ago, we had cool temperatures, then last week, it got up into the 90s. Then Saturday morning (May 14), we came close to setting a record low temperature. That’s not good for rice production. It needs to be warm.”
To alleviate the risk of flooding major Louisiana cities, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the Morganza Spillway on May 15, putting about 3,000 square miles under several feet of water.
Saichuk knows of at least 1,400 acres of rice in the Morganza Floodway “which will either flood if already planted or be prevented from planting. A lot depends on how far the backwaters come up. The levee breach up there around Lake Providence will also affect some rice acres.”
“We’re trying to stay dry and we’re still praying for rain,” said John Kruse, Extension corn and cotton specialist for Louisiana, when asked to describe the crop situation.
Kruse said the opening of the Morganza spillway flooded about 18,000 acres of cropland, a mixture of sugarcane, milo, soybeans, corn and a little cotton. He says the levee breach around Lake Providence flooded about 6,000 acres of cropland, while the levee breach outside of Vidalia in Concordia Parish, flooded about 7,000 acres.
The corn crop in the state is doing well, but in need of a timely rain, according to Kruse. “We’ve had a few fertility issues, but the crop has been relatively free of insects and disease pressure at this point. Glyphosate-resistant weeds have not been a serious concern in the corn crop.”
Late April and early May storms caused some problems with green snap (when rapidly-growing stalks are broken by high wind) in the northeast, Kruse said. “It was bad enough that some producers went back in and replanted those acres.”
Kruse said corn producers in the Macon Ridge area west of the Delta are already irrigating extensively.