Delta farmers wake up to more wind, water damage

Growers in central Louisiana appear to have born the brunt of the damage from Lili, which was still packing near-hurricane force winds as it moved up through the state after making landfall in Vermillion Bay Thursday morning.

““We’re just now figuring how badly it’s affected us,” says Sandy Stewart, Louisiana Extension cotton specialist, at Winnsboro. “Lili definitely tore us up worse than Isidore. I’m just now getting out and looking at fields, but farmers are calling in with some really bad reports. Anecdotally, I’m hearing that there are some bad situations in the state.”

Stewart says he’s gotten some especially bad reports from central Louisiana.

“The center of circulation passed very close to Alexandria and it appears cotton there suffered. I’m also hearing bad things out of northeast part of the state, which is where the storm moved from Alexandria.”

Losses in Rapides and Avoyelles Parishes were "extensive," he said, while those in northeast Louisiana were between 10 to 15 percent.

Farther north, initial reports were that Lili seemed to have lost some of its punch as it moved into Arkansas and the Mississippi Delta. But the second straight tropical storm in as many weeks still took its toll.

“We’ve gone from good to bad to worse,” says Charles Ed Snipes, Extension cotton specialist at the Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville. “We’re just getting the sky clear so we’re not sure where we are right now, but it doesn’t look like there’s as much cotton on the ground as I expected.”

What growers do know is that three weeks of torrential rains are wreaking havoc on the Delta’s cotton crop. To make matters worse, many Delta growers were unable to get any picking done in the period between Isidore and Lili due to wet field conditions.

As a result, many cotton growers were unable to accurately assess the damage Isidore did before Lili hit. Snipes estimates that about 40 percent of the Delta’s cotton crop has been harvested.

The good news, says Snipes, is that the Delta’s cotton crop is still salvageable. “I don’t think it’s a total loss yet, and I don’t think the losses are as great as anticipated in light of the Weather Service’s predictions earlier in the week. The most recent storm has certainly had a negative impact on the cotton crop, but it could have been worse.”

Snipes says that while the wind associated with Hurricane Lili certainly didn’t help the cotton crop, “cotton growers can be thankful that we only saw 2 to 4 inches of rain instead of the 6 to 10 inches that were predicted.

The south Arkansas soybean crop was hit hard by Lili’s rainfall and wind, says Chris Tingle, Arkansas Extension soybean specialist.

“We got substantially more rain in the south than other parts of the state. That area was hit hard. Along the Louisiana border, we got 5 inches of rain. We got off lucky in the northeast where rain was spotty. Winds are picking up, though. If they don’t get any worse, we should be okay there,” says Tingle.

The Arkansas soybean crop is approximately 20 to 25 percent harvested.

“There’s still a bunch of beans out. Luckily most are late-maturing varieties. Some of the Group 4’s – if we didn’t get them out this week – chances are they won’t be harvested,” says Tingle.

Don Plunkett, Arkansas Extension cotton verification program coordinator, was set to harvest several fields Thursday morning. By the time, he reached the field it was already raining.

“We had to pull out and leave the field. It didn’t look too bad when I was there, but last night the storm came through and we’re still assessing the damage. I’m totally comfortable saying the winds and rain weren’t welcome. That’s especially true in the southeastern corner of the state.”

The latest rains are the third in a short time, says Plunkett.

“We had a shower a couple of weeks ago, then Isidore hit and now this. Cotton hasn’t been picking pretty. It isn’t fluffy and it’s tagging out badly. A lot of that is due to producers rushing harvest, trying to get their crop out before rains hit.

“The cotton looked unsightly before Lili, but the wind coupled with rain likely put a lot more cotton on the ground.”

Farmers are using the down time to regroup, get pickers fixed and repairs made to other harvest equipment. Some 15 percent of Arkansas cotton crop has been harvested.

“With the breeze and bright sun expected over the weekend, by Monday I imagine we’ll be seeing a world of pickers hitting the fields again,” says Plunkett.

Complicating the cotton harvest, according to Snipes, is the fact that growers are dealing with a very confused plant due to recent weather variables. Before the tropical storms hit the Delta, most of the area’s crop was fairly well cutout, with a high percent of open bolls.

“Much of the Delta’s crop would have been fairly easy to defoliate prior to the two storms, but Isidore and Lili have reinvigorated the plant making it more difficult to clean up,” says Snipes.

“Weather-wise, cooler temperatures will actually help with the cotton re-growth problem, but they will also complicate defoliation of the plant,” Snipes says. “If the expected temperatures materialize, we’re going to have to shift out of Dropp-type treatments into more phosphate based defoliation treatments, because they do a little better job in cooler weather.”

Snipes is also noticing that those growers who had adopted a minimum or no-till mindset are more reluctant to put pickers in water-saturated cotton fields. “A lot of conservation tillage growers are less inclined to deal with ruts. They don’t want to get out there and rut up a field, because they know they’ll be faced with full tillage in order to correct that problem.”

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