Having just been upgraded to hurricane status and about six hours from hitting Louisiana’s coast, Isaac has chased over 500 evacuees seeking shelter to the LSU AgCenter’s Dean Lee Research Station in Alexandria.
“We’re hoping not to get slammed too hard,” says Boyd Padgett, LSU AgCenter regional director, as an 18-wheeler of emergency food is unloaded behind him. “We’ve had a lot more rain than we’ve come to expect in recent years. August has been very wet here. We don’t need any more from Isaac.
“We’re under a state evacuation and the (Dean Lee Research) station is involved. Our facilities are used to house evacuees – about 3,000 people can be accommodated.”
Asked about the Corps of Engineers preparation for Hurricane Isaac, spokesman Rene Poche, said, “Since Hurricane Katrina, we’ve had the commitment of two administrations from both parties and Congress provide $14.6 billion to build a hurricane storm risk reduction system (to protect New Orleans). To date, a bit over $11 billion has been spent on the system, which is 95 to 98 percent complete. Some small areas still need some work.
“The city is better prepared and the system will perform as it’s been designed to.”
In the southwest part of the state, near Crowley, Johnny Saichuk, LSU AgCenter rice specialist, “was just outside and the wind is beginning to pick up. But otherwise, it’s a nice day, so far. In fact, the breeze feels pretty good.
“Of course, that could change quickly. Usually when we have a hurricane come in, we get around 10 inches of rain.”
The big concern, says Saichuk, “is for the growers up in northeast Louisiana and along the (Mississippi) River. If it rains like expected crops will be knocked down.
“Farmers are harvesting full speed ahead – beans, rice or corn. Most of the corn is out of the field but they’re sure hustling to bring in the beans and rice ahead of the storm.”
As for Louisiana’s cotton, “we can expect that the winds and torrential rains from the storm may cause some or even extensive injury,” reports John Kruse, LSU AgCenter cotton and feedgrain specialist (full report here). “The high, sustained wind speeds in particular will leave the leaves wrinkled and injured.”
Further, writes Kruse, “Some cotton fields will be physically flattened or pushed over, but we hope that many of the plants will eventually stand back up. However, defoliation strategies may require aerial applications instead of ground rigs to prevent mechanical damage. … The best defoliation strategy at this point is to wait out the storm and let the leaves on the plant protect the cotton from the winds as best it can. Inspect the crop after the storm and make the appropriate plans.”
Soybeans are being harvested around the state, says Padgett. One thing for producers to be vigilant about is the spread of soybean rust. “We have soybean rust on the (Dean Lee) station and it’s pretty heavy in some varieties, especially the 5s. The Group 4s are pretty much done – there is plenty of harvesting of those going on.
“There have been some requests from growers about what they need to treat with for rust. So, it’s definitely out there – but it isn’t to the point where growers are panicking.”
For more rust information, see here.
“We’ve seen a lot of cercospora blight in our beans, this year.
“The crop is typically good. Yesterday, a consultant told me they had a bean field averaging over 80 bushels. On top of that, the beans look like seed beans – awesome yield and awesome quality.”
What about Louisiana’s sugarcane crop?
Reached in Buenos Ares, Argentina, Ben Legendre, director of the Audubon Sugar Institute, has been “looking at the cane crop in the north of the country. I’m trying to get home tomorrow (Wednesday) but all flights have been cancelled into Louisiana.”
When he left for Argentina 10 days ago, Louisiana “had one of the tallest crops we’ve had in 10, maybe 20, years,” says Legendre. “With any major rains or winds, it will cause the cane to lodge badly. How much breaks will depend on the wind intensity.”
Legendre worries about the hurricane’s eye moving across a significant portion of the cane crop. “What can happen is the wind will knock the cane down in one direction. Then, as the eye passes, the wind will shift to a different direction. That causes breakage of tops.
“Right now, the majority of the cane crop looks like it will be on the western side of the storm. That means most likely there will be northerly winds. That being the case, I’m sure cane will be lodged.”
Heading even farther west towards Lafayette, “the cane won’t be lodged nearly as bad because the hurricane isn’t that strong. Regardless, any cane within 50 to 60 miles of the eye will see considerable lodging.”
Producers are still about a month away from beginning to harvest sugarcane.
“So, there’s still time for the cane to pick itself up. However, it won’t be as sweet as we’d like. When cane is lodged it doesn’t mature like it is supposed to. That means we’ll likely begin harvest with less sugar per ton.
“We also won’t be able to apply ripeners as we’d like. Typically, the cane needs to be more erect to get the full benefit of our glyphosate ripener.”
And once harvest begins in downed cane, “we tend to leave more scrap in the field. We tend to pick up more trash, more leaves, more mud. We can’t remove the tops – so more trash will arrive at the mill.”
Last year, Tropical Storm Lee broke a drought and actually made Louisiana’s cane crop. Then, “it dried up again and we had an excellent harvest.
“Isaac will be hitting a much taller crop and we don’t need the rain. For the last six weeks it has rained almost every day. The fields are wet.
“Remember, seven years ago, (Katrina) hit New Orleans. Then, about a month later, Rita hit southwest Louisiana and flooded about 40,000 acres. The big concern with that flooding was saltwater.”
While Legendre doesn’t think Isaac will cause saltwater flooding, “there will be some tidal flooding along the coast. And there will likely be some flooding inland from all the excess rain on soils that are already saturated.”