Between Lafayette and Maurice on Aug 14 Photo by Bruce Schultz courtesy of the LSU AgCenter

Between Lafayette and Maurice on Aug. 14. Photo by Bruce Schultz, courtesy of the LSU AgCenter.

Flooding, daily rains damage Louisiana crops

Louisiana crop damage estimates rise as floodwaters recede. Daily rains hamper harvest, cause quality issues.

As if historic flooding in the south wasn’t enough, a pattern of daily rains has settled over Louisiana and crops are deteriorating.

“We continue to get afternoon showers in many places,” says Dustin Harrell, LSU AgCenter rice specialist. “The floodwaters have begun to recede and roads are opening back up.

“Unfortunately, a lot more of the rice has been affected than we initially believed. The original estimate was around 20 percent of what remained in the field would be completely lost – and that’s probably still true.”

The compounding problem is there’s much more “damaged rice that will have quality issues, poor milling. There’s a lot of rice sprouting at the head even if it’s still standing. I’ve had reports of germinated rice on panicles without it even falling down. That’s a response to the high waters, the high humidity and heat. That means a lot of the rice won’t be high-quality, package-type.”

Last week, the preliminary estimate for damage to rice in the state was $14.3 million. It’s now “$33.6 million, including loss of the ratoon crop and the quality issues not considered in the first estimate.

“Honestly, we still don’t know how things will shake out. We’re in a waiting period but the situation is definitely worse than what we thought originally. We won’t know how bad until we get into the rice, start harvest and bring it in. I know some farmers who still have 300 acres underwater. Those acres are probably a complete loss but I can’t say for sure.”

Most of the damage Harrell is talking about is in the southwest part of the state. “But from what I’m hearing out of the northeast, the big rains we’ve been having are beginning to back water up on some fields in the lowest land.”

Soybeans

Ronnie Levy has just walked out of a soybean field. The LSU AgCenter soybean specialist isn’t pleased. “The water is moving out in our high-production areas, although some fields are expected to still be underwater a week from today. What those receding waters have left behind isn’t pretty: lots of loss, lots of sprouting in pods, all the things associated with lingering, flooded conditions. There’s no way around the fact that it’s bad.

“We’re still a long ways from getting the crop out. Things have really taken a turn for the worse since a few weeks ago when soybeans looked excellent. The crop has sustained a tremendous amount of damage. We’re just holding our breath waiting to see how bad it really is.

“Now, I’m primarily talking about the situation in the southern part of the state. In the north, though, the 5, 6, 7 inches of rain we’ve had lately isn’t helping the fields close to harvest. Low areas farther north are holding water now because of the heavy rains.”

Producer calls Levy is fielding center on several questions. “Now that the water is off, how severe is the damage going to be? ‘I’ve got a bad-looking crop and the soybeans are sprouting. What can I do?’

“Another question is ‘should I put out a harvest aid?’ That’s a tough one. There’s so much rain in the forecast it’s hard to tell. If you apply an aid and heavy rain follows it could actually mean more damage. At that point, you’ve sped up the pace at which the pod will begin to deteriorate.”

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Soybean quality can drop quickly, says Levy. “Whether they’ll be accepted at the elevator, or not, is iffy. A lot of times even though the quality is an issue, the oil content and meal means the beans still hold value.”

You can also add stink bug damage to the terrible mix of problems. “The rains mean the crop wasn’t able to be treated timely. The stink bugs not only feed on the pods but they also spread a lot of diseases that lead to quality loss.”

Cotton and grains

“The sun is out, right now,” says Dan Fromme, LSU AgCenter grain and cotton specialist. “At least it isn’t raining. We’ll have to take that because there’s not a lot of other good news.”

Of the three crops Fromme works, grain sorghum has been hit hardest. “It’s sprouting and looks terrible – and that’s happening statewide.”

If there’s a bright spot, corn is it. “Most of the corn is still standing and we’ve lost very little. It’s leaning but holding, for now.”

As for cotton, “we have about 135,000 acres in the state. The crop has really deteriorated since (the week of August 15).

“Some of the earlier-planted cotton was ready to open. Some of it has now sprouted in the boll. I haven’t seen any strung out from the rain but we’ve seen boll rot. Target spot, even on cotton that hasn’t opened, is beginning to defoliate plants from the bottom up.”

Obviously, the worst of the damage is still in the south. “But bad news is moving north. I got a call this morning from the Shreveport area about boll rot and target spot. I’m sorry not to be able to tell a happier story.”

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