Louisiana requests federal farm aid

On Sept. 13, the state of Louisiana requested federal financial assistance in the aftermath of two weeks of virtually nonstop rains at the beginning of harvest, said Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry Bob Odom.

“With the recent rains we had eight to 15 inches of moisture in many areas in the space of a week to 10 days,” Odom said. “At the time we were setting up for one of the best harvests in years and were looking at record or near record yields in almost all of our major row crops.”

There are no firm figures this early in the harvest season, but reports from some areas indicate 30 to 40 percent loss in cotton, with similar losses in grain sorghum, soybeans and rice. The quality of the crop will also be sharply reduced as a result of the rains.

“Crops at the point of harvest are at their most vulnerable stage. They are no longer protected by a hull or husk at the time of picking,” Odom said. “With the humidity and wet, cotton lint was exposed and began to rot, grain sorghum and soybeans began to resprout; sweet potatoes are rotting in the ground. In addition, harvest is being delayed until the wet ground is dry enough to support heavy equipment in the fields.”

The disaster request sent by Gov. Mike Foster's office to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman starts the process whereby Louisiana's office of the USDA's Farm Service Agency in Alexandria is able to begin collecting crop loss data from individual parishes. That information will be forwarded to the USDA in Washington for its consideration and action.

Cotton is likely to be the crop hardest hit due to boll rot. Brian Breaux, a cotton specialist with the Louisiana Farm Bureau, said the rains severely damaged what otherwise would have been a good crop.

“We had some cotton farmers who were anticipating harvesting as much as 1,200 pounds of cotton per acre,” he said. “Boll rot is destroying much of the cotton lint in open bolls and much of the cottonseed in those open bolls is sprouting.”

Crop insurance agents were reviewing damage in parts of Avoyelles Parish where one cotton crop was declared a total loss. Farmers in Pointe Coupee Parish estimate losses of $250 per acre in cotton. Further north, in East Carroll Parish, cotton farmers are estimating losses of about 200 pounds of lint so far due to rainfall.

Across Louisiana crops ranging from sweet potatoes to sugarcane have been hard-hit by continued rains and fields of standing water. Root rot is being seen in sweet potatoes and unharvested grain sorghum is beginning to resprout.

“Sorghum has been badly damaged,” Breaux continued. “Harvest was well underway and now much of the sorghum in the field is sprouting in the seed head. Some elevators are not accepting delivery of any additional sorghum due to the poor quality. Losses will be significant, with many fields going unharvested. In some cases total losses are occurring to those fields.

“Crops across the state have just been hammered,” said Ronnie Anderson, president of the Louisiana Farm Bureau. “For many farmers it's just sickening to see growing conditions go from three straight years of drought to rains that just don't seem to stop.”

Commissioner Odom agreed.

“The rains this summer reversed three years of severe drought and we were looking at record yields across the board. But now that harvest is upon us we need the rains to stop,” Odom said. “In addition to boll rot in cotton, we can't put heavy equipment into the field for any of our commodities until the ground dries.”

Louisiana farmers were anticipating a good crop year for the first time since 1998. Spring and summer rainfall patterns seemed to return to normal, but with nearly 15 inches falling in the last 10 days, fields haven't had time to dry out. Harvest delays were reported across the state in just about every major crop.

Sugarcane in some parishes was knocked down and fields of standing water will likely contribute to root rot.

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