The state's sugarcane farmers are in "dire straits," according to Dr. Ben Legendre, the LSU AgCenter's sugarcane specialist stationed at its Sugarcane Research Station in St. Gabriel.

"Conditions have only worsened since the storms," Legendre said. "Losses could be greater than anticipated."

Legendre said farmers are reporting almost double their normal expenses in wear and tear on equipment and labor costs. In addition, they're facing 20 percent to 25 percent losses for crops they're leaving unharvested in the fields.

"The mills are having tremendous problems in extracting the sugar that's there," Legendre said, explaining mud and leaves in the harvested cane are getting in the way. On top of that, mills are running out of cane to process because farmers are unable to harvest at normal rates.

"In a normal year, we'd be about one-third harvested," Legendre said. "Now, we're at 25 percent to 30 percent. Every day, farmers are getting behind."

Sugarcane is only one of the Louisiana crops that's suffering. Before Hurricane Lili stormed through southern, central and northeastern Louisiana in early October, cotton farmers were reporting yields in excess of 1,000 pounds of cotton per acre.

But that was then. Now, the results don't compare.

"Cotton remaining in the field in central Louisiana will be downgraded and will be hard to harvest," said LSU AgCenter cotton specialist Dr. Sandy Stewart.

Stewart said approximately 40 percent of the cotton crop remains in the field in central Louisiana - and he seriously doubts farmers will be able to harvest all the crop that's left.

The Louisiana soybean crop hasn't fared any better.

Soybeans in the field were in poor shape and deteriorating before the recent rains moved in with the latest weather system, according to David Lanclos, a soybean specialist with the LSU AgCenter at the Dean Lee Research Station in Alexandria.

"Persistent rains in central and southern Louisiana have caused severe damage to the soybean crop, and there seems to be no letup in the forecast," Lanclos said.

Roughly 305,000 acres of the state's soybean crop - about 35 percent to 40 percent of the crop - remains unharvested.

"Farmers need from seven to 10 days of good weather to return to the field," said Lanclos. "And that is not likely to happen, since the winter weather patterns have started.

"With the recent rainfall and additional rain in the forecast, I'm not sure that any of the remaining soybean crop will be worth harvesting," he added.

Farmers in Northeast Louisiana are facing the same sorts of problems.

"The rain is destroying what we haven't harvested," said Tommy Ellett of Angelina Plantation in Concordia Parish. "Fifty percent of our rice is still in the field, and 60 percent of our soybeans are still out. They're sprouting and rotting - there's a lot we'll never be able to harvest."

Lee Bean, also of Angelina Plantation, said the outlook is "devastating."

"We can't afford to lose this much of our crop," Bean said. "The prices are already low, and this is probably going to break us."

After a dry spring planting season, a change in the weather and timely rains resurrected the corn, soybean, cotton and grain sorghum crops, said Glen Daniels, LSU AgCenter county agent for Concordia Parish. The beginning of harvest offered bright hopes.

"Cotton was producing over 1,000 pounds, rice was at the unheard-of yield of 180-200 bushels, soybeans were yielding over 35 bushes per acre, and grain sorghum yield was over 80 bushels," Daniels said. "Even the corn crop had rebounded, and many farmers were harvesting between 98 and 105 bushels of corn."

Then the rains came.

"The next precursor of what was to come was two storms within a week of each other - Tropical Storm Isidore and Hurricane Lili - which were followed by 1 to 2 more inches of rainfall," Daniels said. "Even after these disasters, we had an average crop. The cotton crop took a big hit, but the soybean crop was still making good yields - 35 to 45 bushels with only 1 percent to 5 percent damage."

However, the straw that really broke the camel's back - or rather the farmers' backs - was the 8 inches to 10 inches of rain this past week, Daniels said.

Most of the state's rice crop had been harvested before the wet weather hit, according to Johnny Saichuk, the LSU AgCenter's rice specialist at Crowley.

"There's still some rice in the fields in Northeast Louisiana, and in the Southwest, the second crop is virtually shut down or eliminated," Saichuk said, adding that in the southern areas farmers are often able to harvest a second crop from the same rice fields.

"We expected about 100,000 acres of second-crop rice, but I doubt we'll see 25,000 acres," he said, adding the rain "knocked the second crop out of the picture."

Saichuk added that a wet fall is going to have an effect next spring, since growers aren't going to be able to prepare their seedbeds before winter.

"It could change our cultural practices next year," Saichuk said. "But exactly what happens remains to be seen."

The persistent rains and wet soils also are causing the state's sweet potato crop to rot in the ground, and farmers are concerned the sweet potatoes they do harvest may develop soft spots and rot in storage.

"Farmers had a good crop of sweet potatoes in Avoyelles Parish, but with constant rain, more than 40 percent of the crop remains unharvested," said Earnest Freeman, LSU AgCenter county agent in Avoyelles Parish.

"It's always hard for a farmer to face having a good crop made and then having it taken away by rain in the harvest season," Freeman said.

Freeman said the sweet potato crop in North Louisiana is in better condition than in southern and central Louisiana because problems from Hurricane Lili were less extensive in the North.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com