20 inches in one week : Louisiana hard hit by rains, flooding

By May 24, rains in Louisiana had resumed an afternoon shower pattern. But after torrential rains that ended a week earlier, the state is still wet and miserable.

“It's incredible: over the last couple of years we've gone from one weather extreme to another,” says Sandy Stewart, the state's Extension cotton specialist. “We actually had to dust in some cotton last year and now this. It's hard to get your balance.”

By May 18, some areas of southern Louisiana — reportedly between Highway 90 and Interstate 10 — had received 20 inches of rain in less than a week.

“At two locations we work, we were able to document over 20 inches of rain,” says John Saichuk, Louisiana Extension rice specialist. “(The week of May 23) should be one of discovery for us. The forecast looks good for sun, and we'll find out for sure how bad the rain hurt us.”

While still optimistic that all isn't lost, many are certainly worried. “We had a lot of producers plant within 10 days of these rains, and those fields are in the most jeopardy,” says David Lanclos, Extension corn and soybean specialist. “We have no idea if those fields will even get a stand.”

Saichuk says the rains “messed up the timing” in the state's rice. “In the southern part of the state, we had rice ready for a top-dressing of 2-4,D. We missed that dressing entirely and must now live with weed problems.

“In Avoyelles, Rapides and some parts of St. Landry parishes especially — where we have water that backed up terribly — we have rice stretching. What I've recommended is that producers lower water but not let it completely out of the field. The rice plants don't need to be lying in the mud. If the rice can just lie on the water, if it's going to survive, new leaves will emerge. One way or the other, our crop is delayed: our levees were blown out, our weed control is messed up, our fertilization is messed up, our timing is just shot.”

Any replanting done will hurt rice yields. This late, particularly in the southern and central portion of the state, replanting can mean a 30 to 50 percent yield loss.

And if a producer has planted Clearfield 161, all bets are off. “There's very little, if any, 161 left for replanting,” says Saichuk. “It's going to be interesting to see how that's resolved.

“Ironically, some producers are going to have to drain their fields to do needed management and then turn around and pump water back onto the fields. You know, take the water off in order to put it back on.”

Northern Louisiana is in better shape but still received substantial rains.

“Looking at radar maps, it looks like Alexandria south is where the heavy stuff hit,” said Randy Machovec, consultant-owner of CenLa Crop Care, on May 18. “Alexandria, where I work, has been deluged. Parts of Alex have gotten anywhere between 11 and 15 inches of rain. The rain just won't let up.”

Lanclos is “pretty much convinced” that most late-planted fields — due to seed rot and other problems — are shot. The fields that had germinated seed and some height are struggling. The pattern for many fields was underwater one day, water runs off the next day and then they flood up again. Such a pattern wasn't “good for seedling diseases and the crop's health,” says Lanclos. “Now, we're seeing even the crop that's a bit more mature showing signs of water stress. We're seeing yellowing of terminals, and that's a bad sign.”

Stewart says he's had plenty of water-logged cotton to inspect. Ends of fields were underwater for an extended period.

“The rains began on a Tuesday,” says Stewart. “There's some big differences based on when late-planted cotton actually went in the ground. Cotton planted on Sunday morning was better than cotton planted Sunday afternoon. Cotton planted Monday morning is really questionable, and anything planted after that hasn't come up.

“The cotton that did come up looks a lot better than we expected. We found some white roots, some feeder roots. The cotton that was underwater may be stunted, but the damage isn't as extensive as it could have been — we dodged a bullet. But there will be some cotton needing to be replanted. A lot of that will be going in early this week.”

Lanclos says before the rains hit, some wheat was harvested. Reports are it looked good: 40- to 60-bushel yields.

“Now, though, the wheat that's still in the field is turning black,” says Lanclos. “The heads are looking bad. I haven't heard of any reports about sprouting in the heads, but it's still early and the rain hasn't quit.”

Lanclos is frustrated but resigned. “Right now, we have to take a patient attitude. What else can we do? Some of these fields will be okay, but there is going to be some serious replanting going on in south Louisiana. The high spots in fields may be okay in some areas. That's what I'm praying for anyway.”

Stewart also harbors much hope. “We may come out of this better than we think. Today, I was encouraged to see some cotton had achieved a stand that I didn't think possible.”

Machovec, meanwhile, talks on a cell phone while walking through a field, mud sucking at his boots. “It's unreal out here. You know, we've already had to replant some of acres due to earlier rains. It's been reported that Avoyelles Parish, since late April, has had 26 inches of rain. We'll definitely have to replant some of our fields because of this latest deluge. That means we'll be planting some fields for the third time in a couple of months. That's not fun. Fortunately I work with some excellent farmers who know what they're doing.”

Stewart sums it up: “At this time, we just can't tell how bad it is. We're all holding our breath.”

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