“For the past few years we’ve been so incredibly dry that we’ve been able to tolerate this much better than if we’d had saturated soils and normal conditions for this time of year. That was in our favor...Still, (our waterways) are filled up now and we certainly don’t need more rain. We need more clear skies,” says Louisiana Extension rice specialist John Saichuk.
“I think rice was only affected in the very lower parishes. Yesterday, I spoke with Howard Cormier, Extension agent in Vermilion Parish. He thought only 10 percent was seriously damaged,” says Saichuk.
The situation isn’t as bad as it could have been, but some fields did go underwater completely for two or three days. That’s not good, he says.
“Most of our rice is just beginning to head now and we could sustain even more damage if rains come as forecast. Rain and thunderstorms during flowering is extremely harmful to rice. It knocks flowers off and disrupts pollination.”
Saichuk says farmers were lucky in another sense. If the rice crop had been further along, the damage would have been much more serious. If the flood had happened the week of June 11, “yield losses would have been very bad.
“The thing I’m concerned about is development of disease following receding waters. Particularly troubling are sheath blight and panicle blight. Those are notorious and we’ve got hot and humid conditions, as we always do following such rains. That’s prime breeding grounds for disease.”
How much rice has been affected? Vermilion Parish normally has 100,000 acres of rice. There’s something like 10,000 acres affected there. Factoring the parishes of Calcasieu and Jefferson Davis in and “we’re probably looking at 20,000 acres of rice affected adversely.”
Saichuk says he’s finding heavy stinkbug pressure early. Disease has been light so far. “But with this water, that could change quickly.”
Extension agent Jimmy Garrett is responsible for sugarcane in the parishes of St. James and Ascension. There’s about 25,000 acres of sugarcane in St. James Parish.
“Almost all our agricultural acres are in cane. There’s only a few acres of vegetables. We don’t have much commercial cattle either,” says Garrett.
The parish, just like a number of others along the Mississippi River (which actually divides St. James Parish in two) has very sandy, silt loams. The farther away from the river you get, the heavier the soils.
“The areas with heavy soils are the ones hardest hit with flooding. It doesn’t take up the water as well and complicating matters is there are other areas that drain through our parish.”
Another factor that’s added to the trouble is most of the area’s drainage is tied to the Gulf of Mexico. Up until a couple of days ago (Farm Press spoke with Garrett on June 13) a predominant wind was holding much of the floodwaters inland.
“The water is now receding. I’m guessing, but there’s probably around 10 percent of our cane acreage still under water. I’d guess up to 15 percent of our acres were flooded total,” says Garrett.
To collect any money from a disaster payment, growers usually have to have at least a 30 percent crop yield reduction. Garrett doubts many cane farmers will be collecting.
“Even in 1991, when we had 100 inches of rain, we still didn’t have enough damage to qualify for much insurance.”
Sugarcane is a hardy crop. A large percentage of affected acreage can pull through this, says Garrett. But some might not.
“They say for every day an field is underwater, the crop loses a ton of yield. Right now, we’re on day number 7 or 8. Around here we had something like 25 inches of rain. In LaFourche Parish they had 35-plus inches.
“The thing with cane is in most areas, the plant isn’t completely under water. There are still tops showing. I’d think because of that the plant can still ‘breathe.’
But there are still a lot of tillers that are small and underwater. Those will likely drown and stands will be thinned.”
Another thing people are concerned about is when the water comes off, scalding may follow. Scalding occurs because of a combination of waterlogged soils, heat and plants unable to take up oxygen through the roots because of saturated ground. The plant needs moisture, but can’t take it up.
“The outlets and tributaries are so full, it’s hard to deal with. We’re being told it’ll be seven to 10 days before the water fully recedes from some areas around here,” says Garrett.
Although it didn’t get the deluge the southern part of the state did, there’s still a lot of water in central Louisiana.
“We haven’t been hammered as badly as further south, but we still got our fair share. It’s hard to get around in the fields — they’re way too muddy,” says consultant Randy Machovec of Pest Management Enterprises out of Cheneyville.
Any kind of ground rigging is out. All spraying is being done by airplane. The problem is that pilots are backed up — perhaps a week behind in spraying.
“We’re also battling phenoxy/2,4-D type syndrome that a lot of our cotton is getting. We’re not sure where it’s coming from but our cotton is injured and set back. There’s probably 20,000 acres, if not more, that’s affected,” says Machovec, who works fields up to around 40 miles south of Alexandria.
Machovec says the phenoxy drifts, gets on a cotton plant and mangles leaves. “Leaves shrivel to nothing. If it’s serious enough the cotton is affected very badly.”
Cotton will normally grow out of it, but won’t ever fully recover. There is some yield loss but there’s no way to determine what that loss will be until harvest time, says Machovec.
“It started to show up about five weeks ago. It appears to be coming from the south moving north. I walked fields today that from last week to this are twice as bad.”
There’s no feasible, immediate cure for the problem, says Machovec. “The number one cure is taking 2,4-D off the market. The other thing is to put a stronger limitation on when it can be put out. We already have limits, but they’re going to have to be more stringent -- maybe no 2,4-D spraying from the first of April through October.”