Earlier in May, corn and soybeans planted in the Morganza floodway sat parched. Farmers were anxious for a rain. Today, water covers these same crops, drowned by the opening of the spillway.
Miles Brashier, LSU AgCenter county agent in Point Coupee Parish, said about 10 percent of parish’s crops were located within the flood zone.
“That’s a lot of money,” Brashier said, standing near a field of corn and soybeans. “We’re talking about ($750,000) in crop loss just in this 1,000-acre field.”
Water rushing through the spillway gates will make its way across the Morganza floodway into the Atchafalaya Basin.
Estimates before the floodgates opened were that about 18,000 acres would be damaged. But flooding isn’t restricted to the basin. Water from flooding or seepage is affecting many acres from East Carroll Parish down to the coast, according to LSU AgCenter economist Kurt Guidry.
“I think when it’s all said and done, we’re probably going to see, at least in our first estimate, nearly 300,000 acres impacted,” Guidry said, adding that this could translate into $200 million in damages.
LSU AgCenter economists looked at crop damage from the 1973 opening of the Morganza Spillway. In current dollars, the costs of the 1973 flood would equal $300 million.
Guidry said damage will largely depend on how long water stays in some areas and whether farmers can replant some acres. But Brashier says the water will likely linger on the land long enough to keep farmers from replanting.
“It wouldn’t be an automatic that we’ll be able to plant beans in July,” Brashier said. “That probably wouldn’t happen.”
Many fields will experience a total loss. Fields with seepage may just see yield reduction.
“Where we don’t have crops totally under water, the question is, is that going to be a 30 percent, 40 percent or 50 percent loss, and we just don’t know at this time,” Guidry said.
Crops affected by flooding are mainly corn, cotton, soybeans and sugarcane. Cattle producers were able to move their herds out of the way of water, but many are crowded on pastures.
Brashier said this means farmers will likely need to feed their cattle hay earlier in the year than normal, but because the levees were closed for hay production, farmers may see hay shortages.
“That’s about 8,000 acres of pastureland alone that beef cattle producers have lost, which is going to set them back for hay in the winter,” Brashier said.
While flooding is a concern in areas along the basin, drought is a problem in many other areas of the state. According to Brashier, crops outside of the spillway in Pointe Coupee Parish are already starting to experience drought stress.
“The first thing they do is they don’t actually want to perform for you,” Brashier said. “The bean pods will fall off. The corn will be shrunken. So, we have some situation where you won’t have the yield potential that we should have.”
If the drought continues, farmers across the state would see yield losses from either too much water or not enough.