Wettest months in 75 years take toll on crops

BATON ROUGE, La. — May and June were the wettest months in 75 years in some parts of Louisiana and LSU AgCenter climatologist Jay Grimes said it’s hard to tell if the unusual weather patterns will continue.

The excessive rainfall is creating a variety of problems for the state’s crops and livestock — as well as creating landscape problems for homeowners.

According to Grimes, 15 to 20 inches of rain fell in north Louisiana, and 20 to 30 came down on south Louisiana during May and June.

“Some areas of the state have had six months of rain in eight weeks,” Grimes said. “Will it continue? This type of weather pattern is not easy to forecast. The mechanisms generating these storms are unusual.”

LSU AgCenter experts say the rain is taking a toll on crops ranging from cotton to watermelons — and even rice. It’s also creating headaches for homeowners who can’t seem to find days dry enough to mow their lawns.

LSU AgCenter cotton specialist Sandy Stewart said cotton is just one crop being affected.

“We have remained saturated and flooded in some fields,” Stewart said. “This has resulted in a continued decline in the root system. We now have a lot of cotton that is blooming. When cotton blooms, it has a high nitrogen and water demand. The shallow root system we have now has less ability to mine the nutrients and absorb water.”

That means the crop will have very little drought tolerance and may need some supplemental nitrogen in some cases when the rain does stop, Stewart said, adding that to make matters worse, the cloudy, rainy weather, as well as some plant bug activity, has significantly reduced fruit retention in many fields.

Similar problems with insects and diseases aggravated by the wet weather also have been cited by producers of other crops and livestock across the state.

“There is no magic formula to fix all of this,” Stewart said. “We need drier weather, and we also need some sunlight. Because of the shallow root system, we will also be dependent on timely rainfall and irrigation to produce an acceptable yield.

“All potential is not lost, but we are now left with a situation in which several things will have to fall in place for the crop to rebound.”

The rain also has cut the state’s corn crop. David Lanclos, an LSU AgCenter corn specialist, said this year’s crop started out to be one of the biggest crops ever until the rains came.

“Now, much of the crop has suffered nitrogen loss,” Lanclos said. “We’re also seeing a lot of root pruning in the corn crop.”

Despite the potential problems those situations present for the corn crop, Lanclos said Louisiana farmers have more than 500,000 acres devoted to corn this year — slightly more than last year but still a little below 2002.

The state’s tomato crop also has been affected. Sandra Benjamin, LSU AgCenter county agent for Tangipahoa Parish, said the rains have prevented spraying for disease and insect control.

“We’ve been getting so much rain that farmers have not been able to get into their fields to spray for disease, because, with all this rain, the plants get a lot of disease,” she said, stressing, “When the plants are not healthy, you don’t get a good crop of tomatoes.”

Anthony Liuzza, a Tangipahoa, La., strawberry and tomato farmer who has 35 acres of tomatoes, said the rain has cut his production in half. “Due to the amount of rainfall, we’ve got about a 50 percent production, and with the amount of rain since May, it has not been good,” Liuzza said. “I’ve had four plantings of tomatoes. The first crop was a total disaster. The second planting, we harvested all of those tomatoes. The third planting, we’re on it now, and it has serious damage because of the rain. The fourth planting, I don’t think we’ll get much out of it, because of the amount of rain we’ve had.”

The effects of the excessive rain aren’t limited to any one area or to agricultural crops. They’re taking a toll on homeowners, too, said Denyse Cummins, an LSU AgCenter area horticulturist in Northwest Louisiana.

“The rain is preventing property owners from cutting their grass,” Cummins said, characterizing the problems as “just horrible.”

“It’s also causing root rot and fungal diseases,” she said.

Fungal diseases cause trees and shrubs to defoliate. To try to prevent them, Cummins said property owners are being forced to spend more money to buy fungicides.

“The rain also is interfering with pollination in vegetable gardens,” she said. “This is slowing the ripening of fruits and vegetables.”

A. Denise Coolman, Tobie Blanchard, and Johnny Morgan write for the LSU AgCenter.

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