Rains from Hurricane Gustav significantly affected a diversity of crops in Northeast Louisiana — particularly with parts of Tensas and Franklin parishes getting 19 inches of rain.
Bob Hutchinson, LSU AgCenter’s regional director for the area, said it was the worst flooding he has seen in his 29-year career.
Corn, cotton, soybeans, grain sorghum, rice and sweet potatoes are at risk, Hutchinson said, adding that LSU AgCenter agents are still estimating damage.
Drainage systems are full, and time is needed for the water to drain off, Hutchinson said. Bayous, rivers and oxbow lakes in the Louisiana delta are full so there is no place for the excess water to go.
Drainage patterns, soil types and plant varieties all come into play, but corn farmers with early-maturing varieties may be in better shape than others, he said.
The cotton harvest was just beginning. “Depending on the situation, there may be 25 percent or more damage because of drainage patterns,” Hutchinson said. He said there could be problems with the lint quality and seed deterioration. “Ginning operations are slower and more costly when the seed is deteriorated,” he said.
The preliminary loss estimate for sweet potatoes is 40 percent statewide, said Tara Smith, LSU AgCenter sweet potato specialist. That translates to a $26 million hit.
Waterlogged soil deprives sweet potatoes of oxygen, and some fields have been saturated for a week, Smith said. Since sweet potatoes are an underground crop, producers will know more when fields dry out.
Smith is still making rounds. “We are taking it one day at a time,” she said. “It is heartbreaking because farmers knew they had the potential for a good year.”
Those farmers who can get into dry fields are trying to harvest, she said.
Dennis Burns, LSU AgCenter agent in Tensas Parish, said damages there vary from one crop to another and one field to the next, but where there is localized flooding, damage is extreme. He said some farmers will try to harvest soybeans this week.
Some of the worst areas of northeast Louisiana were not accessible because roads were flooded, said Ron Levy, LSU AgCenter soybean specialist who surveyed crop damage.
Soybeans in northeast Louisiana that were sprayed with desiccants in preparation for harvest will be damaged by wet conditions, he said. “The quality is deteriorating in those fields,” Levy said.
Many soybean fields have plants that have fallen over, he said, and sun scalding will be a problem in fields with later-maturing beans.
As for the mature soybeans that were flooded, Levy said, the extent of damage depends on how long it takes for fields to drain.
In addition, the 5-10 percent of the state’s grain sorghum crop not yet harvested at the time of the storm will suffer extensive damage, Levy said.
About a fifth of the state’s corn crop was still in the field, Levy said. Because of the difficulties of storing harvested corn, many farmers were leaving their crop in the field while they waited for bin space.
Carol Pinnell-Alison, LSU AgCenter agent in Franklin Parish, said farmers are helping each other. She said corn farmers are concerned they may not be able to meet their contract responsibilities.
Pinnell-Alison added that very few soybeans have been harvested in Franklin Parish.
Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain held an impromptu meeting in Gilbert Friday and said the state was working to get more diesel fuel to farmers to operate harvest machinery.