Louisiana farmers 'sitting on a disaster'

The rains and winds from Tropical Storm Isidore and Hurricane Lili already have done nearly $300 million in damage to Louisiana crops, and farmers don't need even more rain right now, the experts say.

State climatologist Jay Grymes said this weekend's rains are caused by an upper level flow coupled with a frontal boundary that won't go away. In normal years, October fronts are relatively dry and "whistle on through," he said. This system is "not rare, but unusual."

In addition, Grymes said Louisiana farmers unfortunately won't see drying anytime soon, although he pointed out, "The early to mid part of next week might get a break from the wet stuff."

Another weekend of rain across Louisiana is putting a heavy damper on the state's soybean harvest, according to David Lanclos, a soybean specialist with the LSU AgCenter who is stationed at the Dean Lee Research Station near Alexandria.

"The story's all the same," Lanclos said of the situation across the state. "There's a lot of acreage in the field, and we're sitting on a small disaster."

Lanclos said Louisiana farmers have 25 percent to 30 percent of the soybean acreage still unharvested, and persistent rains have kept them out of the fields.

The soybean specialist said as much as 10 percent of the unharvested soybean acreage was ready for harvest before Hurricane Lili and still remains in the fields.

"Right now, we're looking at a minimum 10 percent damage," Lanclos said, citing mold, soybeans sprouting in the pods and pods opening and spilling their seed on the ground as some of the problems.

Lanclos said the problems are more severe in south Louisiana, where Tropical Storm Isidore and Hurricane Lili limited harvest more than in the northern part of the state.

Lanclos estimates farmers will see their yields reduced an average 25 percent from what they would have had if the rains had not come at the wrong time for farmers.

Sugarcane farmers aren't faring any better, said Ben Legendre, the LSU AgCenter's sugarcane specialist, who is stationed at its Sugarcane Research Station in St. Gabriel. They're facing the combination of plants knocked down by Hurricane Lili and persistent rains that are making harvest difficult.

"Rains don't stop sugarcane harvest," Legendre said. "With sugarcane, you have to harvest every day - seven days a week."

He said most mills are running two weeks behind, however, because of excessive mud and "trash" coming in with the harvested cane.

With sugarcane, the whole plant is harvested. Because some of the crop is laying on the ground, harvesters are set so low to the ground that they're picking up mud, which is causing problems at the mills, Legendre said.

"The recovery of sugar per ton of cane is down 10 percent to 20 percent from the past year," he said.

Harvest problems also are putting a strain on the equipment, Legendre said. Overheating has caused fires in at least a couple of combines used in harvesting cane - and one of those expensive pieces of equipment was destroyed, he said.

Joel Faircloth, the LSU AgCenter's cotton specialist stationed at the Scott Research and Education Center in Winnsboro, said the rain has been detrimental for the state's cotton crop, as well. But just how bad the damage will turn out to be remains to be seen, Faircloth said.

"Cotton farmers can't get in the fields to pick anything," Faircloth said. "The rain is definitely hurting quality, as well as quantity. And defoliation has been very difficult."

Faircloth explained cotton farmers won't know just how bad the damage is until they can get back in the fields, which could be as late as early- to mid-November.

"About 60 percent of the cotton has been picked in northeastern Louisiana," he said. "Since Tropical Storm Isidore hit, we've had just a few days we could get in the fields."

Charlie Noble, a Richland Parish cotton farmer, said that since the storms have come in, farmers have seen a reduction in yield.

"There's been cotton falling off the plant and bolls that have been damaged, making it difficult to harvest," Noble said. "The conditions in the fields also are making it difficult for farmers to get machinery in their fields to pick.

"This is a very serious problem for farmers in Northeast Louisiana," Noble added, stressing, "Some haven't even gotten 50 percent of their crop picked. We're hoping for a break in the weather here."

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