Louisiana Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain is urging the USDA’s Office of Risk Management (ORM) to categorize the opening of the Morganza Spillway as a natural disaster.

“I am asserting that the flood waters will overtop the Morganza floodgates regardless of whether the spillway is opened or not,” Strain said. “Failure to open the spillway will result in potential damage to that structure which could result in more severe flooding. The Morganza Spillway will flood either way so therefore flooding from the opening of the spillway should be classified as a natural disaster.”

For more, see Louisiana flooding: evacuations, massive loss, crop insurance questions.

Strain sent a letter to the Louisiana congressional delegation on May 10 asking for their support to have the natural disaster designation applied to the opening of the Morganza Spillway.

Strain’s request to the delegation reads as follows: “At this point, we are uncertain that the Office of Risk Management is categorizing this event as a natural disaster. A manmade designation would not allow producers to make crop insurance claims. The ORM is currently requesting information to make the determination of a manmade versus natural disaster. We must continue to make the ORM aware that the purpose of opening the water control structure is for diversion of floodwaters to the Atchafalaya River. The rising water will overtake the control structure regardless of any opening or diversion.”

Strain said more than 18,000 acres of crops within the Morganza Spillway in the fore bay and tail bay will be inundated and lost for the current season. Cotton, soybean, rice, sugarcane, corn, wheat, sorghum, aquaculture and hay crops are among the commodities that are grown in the Morganza Spillway and Atchafalaya Basin.

Strain said he is hopeful that the ORM will designate the opening of the Morganza Spillway and subsequent flooding of the Atchafalaya Basin as a natural disaster.

“The ORM is currently requesting information for consideration in making the determination of a manmade or natural disaster,” Strain said. “We are working closely with the USDA and their ORM to provide them with the most accurate data available, but a favorable decision is critical for the agricultural producers in the area that will suffer huge losses due to the floodwaters.”

More information on how the flooding will affect agriculture in Louisiana may be found at www.LDAF.la.gov and clicking on the “Spring Flood 2011” link on the home page.