BATON ROUGE, La. — Mother Nature has a way of reminding us exactly how powerless we are when it comes to predicting or controlling the weather. The 2003 growing season for Louisiana feed grains is off to a slow start, mainly because of either too much rain or not enough rain and cool weather.

In the early spring, it seemed as if it would never stop raining across the state. This delayed corn planting for at least a week or more, especially in south Louisiana.

After burndown herbicides were applied, approximately 75 percent of the total corn acreage was planted in about a week and half. We had expected corn acreage was in the 550,000 to 600,000 acre range, but it has been very difficult to assess exactly how much was planted. A lot of "late" corn was planted near the end of the optimal planting window.

USDA does not survey planted acreage until later in the summer.

After discussions about planted corn acreage with people in the state, I estimate 400,000 or more acres have been planted.

After the rains stopped, we had optimal conditions to plant corn with adequate moisture and nearly weed-free fields. After the corn was planted, there were several reports of early frost damage. Most of the corn has grown out of the damage. Some fields were replanted.

Lower temperatures immediately after planting kept the corn from growing as it needed to and delayed nitrogen applications until somewhat later than normal.

Portions of the state, especially northeast Louisiana, experienced tremendous amounts of rainfall in a very short period. More than 6 inches of rain fell in parts of East Carroll, Morehouse, Ouachita and other parishes. This was unfortunate for some producers in the northeastern parishes who had worked the fields before planting.

Because the rains came very hard and very fast, soil was washed away from the base of the corn plants, exposing sensitive roots to wind, insects and diseases. Much of it looked like hail-damaged corn because plants were severely lodged. In some cases the plants were dead.

Some producers replanted portions of their fields where the rainstorms were most severe.

Other producers in the northeast part of the state have cultivated some of the hardest-hit fields, trying to throw soil back onto the beds around the base of the corn plants. Some have been successful; others have not.

Most of the corn I looked at after the storms was dying or had lodged to the point that it will soon be dead. In most cases, only one or two roots are still below the soil line.

Some plants, however, are still alive and will grow until ear development, at which point they will lodge because of inadequate root structure.

Across Louisiana, corn that has not been irrigated is beginning to show signs of drought stress. I strongly urge producers who have access to irrigation to use it.

Early-planted soybeans in Louisiana look good and are off to a good start. Many producers have the soybean ground ready but are waiting on rain before they plant, because there is no moisture in the soil.

Grain sorghum that has been planted also looks good, with the exception of some stands thinned by ants. Grain sorghum is generally more drought-tolerant and will not show drought-stress symptoms as early as corn and soybeans will.

Water has become a limiting factor for all three crops where irrigation is not an option. We need a good, soaking rain to get these crops up and growing.

David Y. Lanclos is the soybean, corn and grain sorghum specialist at LSU AgCenter. dlanclos@agcenter.lsu.edu .