Hurricane Isaac could wreck what was shaping up to be an excellent year for Louisiana agriculture.
The storm threatens what remains of the state’s record corn harvest, which started earlier than normal this year and was moving rapidly. It slowed because the corn couldn’t be transported out, said LSU AgCenter feed grain and cotton specialist John Kruse.
Drought in the Midwest dropped water levels in the Mississippi River. This forced barges to load only half or two-thirds full, Kruse explained.
“Everyone was bringing in more corn than normal, and there was just nowhere to put it,” Kruse said. “So things slowed down dramatically.”
The harvest would have been done by now, if not for transportation problems. Kruse estimated that around one-third of the 560,000-acre crop is still in the field.
With the storm approaching, Kruse said farmers are scrambling to get the rest of the crop in. “Everyone that has somewhere to put corn is out cutting it.”
Corn prices are high, around $8 a bushel, because of shortages brought on by the drought.
Likely not all corn will be cut before the storm moves through. Strong winds could knock corn stalks down, making it extremely difficult to harvest.
The remaining corn is not as vulnerable as the state’s cotton crop, however. “Cotton is really under threat. This storm could really tear up our cotton crop.”
Cotton is at the same stage it was when Hurricane Gustav hit in 2008. That storm destroyed that year’s crop, and farmers are bracing for damage.
A few farmers have already defoliated their crop, making it especially vulnerable.
“At this point growers will want to let the leaves remain on the cotton to protect it from the winds, if possible,” Kruse said. “This strategy increases the risk of hardlock, but the winds on defoliated cotton would be far more damaging than hardlock.”
Hardlock occurs when the fibers on the boll don’t fluff out.
Most cotton is two weeks to one month away from picking.
The timing of Hurricane Isaac’s arrival is a concern for sugarcane growers, according to LSU AgCenter sugarcane specialist Kenneth Gravois. Growers got an early start on planting, but they have been slowed recently by wet weather. The storm is expected to slow them down even more with several more inches of rain on already saturated fields.
“I expect to see some cane laid down by winds,” Gravois said. “We’ll give it a week or so after to allow itself to straighten back up before we will know the full extent of any damage.”
The storm will delay the application of ripeners that cause the sugarcane to stop growing and focus energy on making sugar.
Ronnie Levy, LSU AgCenter soybean specialist, said growers are “harvesting beans as fast as they can” before the storm’s arrival.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of the state’s beans are not far enough along for harvesting.
“We might have somewhere between 30-35 percent harvested by end of the day Tuesday, if we’re lucky,” Levy said. Louisiana has approximately 1.2 million acres of soybeans planted this year, and prices have been at or near record levels for this commodity.