Katrina ensures lengthy Mississippi corn harvest

With Mississippi’s corn crop already lodged and leaning, Hurricane Katrina went ahead and shoved much of it to the ground.

“We’ve got bunches of flat corn,” said Erick Larsen, Mississippi Extension corn specialist on Thursday morning. “Almost all the corn is lodged to some degree, a lot of it badly.”

Prior to the hurricane, about 30 percent of the state’s corn crop had been harvested. The vast majority of corn harvested was in the Mississippi Delta – particularly the south Delta.

“I was hearing some really good yields before Katrina. We were on pace to set a new record yield level for the state.

“We’ve planted about 365,000 acres of corn and, prior to Katrina, had harvested 110,000 of that. That means 255,000 acres were in the field when the hurricane hit.”

Because of “very shaky” communication lines south of I-20, Larsen doesn’t have “a crystal-clear picture of what’s left. (Wednesday) I spoke to an Extension agent in south Mississippi. South of I-20, he didn’t think more than 10 to 15 percent of the crop had been harvested before the hurricane. That’s unfortunate and means that whole area’s corn was exposed to major winds – some in excess of 100 miles per hour. I suspect most of that corn is flat on the ground.”

Corn was lodging even before Hurricane Katrina.

Earlier this season, Mississippi’s eastern counties experienced considerable damage from Hurricane Dennis. Then, during the last two weeks of July several strong storms rolled through the state causing much root lodging.

“A lot of corn was leaning and in marginal shape.”

Larsen said there are few remedies and little advice he can offer for those facing flattened corn fields. “There’s just not a lot we can do. I’m sure producers will salvage what they can.

“The only things they might look at are after-market attachments to put on headers. Those may help pick up the downed corn a little easier.”

Whatever harvesting methods are used, producers will end up spending a lot more time and money getting the crop in. Larsen said harvest progress will now be slowed by at least five times the norm.

“In turn, that will cause real problems because it will back harvest up for all the state’s crops. Harvest expenses will likely double and, conservatively, 10 percent of the crop will be left in the field. More than likely, more of the crop will be left on the ground – especially if it’s a wet fall. It’s too early to tell.

“I think losses for the corn crop alone will exceed $20 million. And that’s a conservative estimate. Figure we’ll lose in the neighborhood of 20 bushels per acre in yield. On top of that, figure harvest expenses will at least double. That’s $45 per acre in lost corn and another $30 per acre in harvest expenses.

“Most importantly, though, is it will take a long, long time to get this crop out of the field. The headaches may just be starting.”

(Note: Efforts to reach Extension specialists in Louisiana for more than a few moments by telephone were unsuccessful. Delta Farm Press will continue to try to contact them and provide updates as they become available.)

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