Louisiana cotton and cane on the ground

“It’s been hard to get our story out,” says crop consultant Randy Machovec of Pest Management Enterprises in Cheneyville. “Absolutely everything – cell phones, land lines – were down in this area. I didn’t have cell service for four or five days and that’s pretty typical.”

Cotton and sugarcane took a massive hit from Lili in the Alexandria area where Machovec works. Preliminary estimates from the Louisiana Department of Agriculture put crop losses at $300 million to $500 million.

“The storm really caused devastation from Alexandria south. We think the eye-wall probably came right through Cheneyville, or just to the west. Electricity has been out for six days in some areas, barns were taken down, and debris strewn all over.”

Cotton modules were even disintegrated. Machovec says some suspect the modules were broken apart from tornado activity in conjunction with Lili. Regardless, one day the modules were sitting on the turnrows. The next day, they were gone.

The cotton crop is almost a complete loss. When Lili hit, Machovec estimates farmers had 30 to 35 percent of the crop picked. Of the 65 to 70 percent that they didn’t get out, “probably 85 to 100 percent will be a total loss. It isn’t worth even putting a picker back into the fields.

“The cotton is all on the ground. The fields look like they’ve experienced one of the cleanest pickings ever. There’s nothing left on the plants. The crop is now worthless and spread out on the ground for hundreds of yards both in and around fields.”

And sugarcane also took a beating.

“All the sugarcane is flat, twisted and broke. We lost at least 30 to 40 percent of the sugarcane yield.

“We put Polado (a ripening agent that increases sugar content) on sugarcane to prepare it for harvest. When the cane is laying down flat, it does no good to put the product on. So farmers are going to lose yield just from not being able to apply Polado. Plus, any cane that has ripening agent put on must be harvested in a certain time frame. If left too long, the cane is worthless. Farmers who put Polado out before the storm now have that to worry about.”

Also, sugar mills in the area shut down for a few days so farmers lost on that.

The cane is twisted in strange ways and in different directions, says Machovec.

“What happened is when the hurricane came in – even though it approached from the south – all the wind rushed in from the north. That pushed the cane down in one direction. Then, when the eye-wall passed, the wind shifted in the opposite direction.”

On Wednesday morning, Machovec (who serves as president-elect of the Louisiana Agriculture Consultants Association) spoke with the Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner’s office. He was told, “we’re looking at from $300 million to $500 million worth of damage to the state’s crops. We won’t know the exact number until everything is harvested, but it looks bad. The consultants’ association is trying to find out what disaster relief we can get. We’re trying to get our congressional team to help with some money.”

The problems are compounded because this is the second year in a row that central and south Louisiana crops have been devastated. It seems incredibly cruel because after rough early starts, both harvests held high promise.

“This year and last looked to be some of the best cotton we ever had – some farmers were in two and three-bale cotton. But we lost both crops.

“Here at the end, the rains won’t let up. At my house, I had 6.5 inches of rain a couple of days before Isidore arrived, only about .5 inch from Isidore and then 7 inches out of Lili. And rain is continuing to fall. It’s rainy now and that’s supposed to continue for a couple more days. Our already saturated ground could be getting another 2 or 3 inches of rain, and water is still in some of the fields.

Farmers want people outside the area to know what’s happened, he says.

“Farmers here don’t need more low-interest loans. A lot of the politicians are touting disaster relief as low-interest loans. Farmers need payments. Their last two cotton crops were out there to pay mortgages, car payments and grocery bills. We need help now.”

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