Lousiana Farmer harvey flooding Bruce Schultz/LSU AgCenter
Farmer Josh Sikes holds a soybean plant in his field near Vinton, Louisiana. Sikes has 1,200 acres of soybeans, but not all of it flooded from Tropical Storm Harvey.

Harvey creates problems for Louisiana farmers

Cotton, soybean, sugarcane, rice and cattle producers affected by storm.

Louisiana farmers Adam Habetz and Josh Sikes were getting their first look at their crops late last week just after Tropical Storm Harvey had passed over western Calcasieu Parish, La.

“I was not expecting this,” Sikes said as he looked over about 80 acres of flooded soybeans. “I’m going to lose a lot of beans.”

Still, a larger area of his soybeans on higher ground appeared to have been spared from high water.

Rice that should have been harvested was already sprouting in Sikes’ and Habetz’s fields, not from flooding but from being continuously wet with constant rainfall.

Near the Texas/Louisiana line, Habetz has about 115 acres left to harvest after harvesting 125 acres, and Sikes said he still has 600 acres remaining after harvesting 250 acres.

Louisiana State University AgCenter extension rice specialist Dustin Harrell said sprouted rice can still be sold and milled, although farmers will get less money for damaged grain. If the grain is broken, it can be used for pet food.

A phone survey revealed that about 10,000 acres of first-crop rice remains left to harvest in southern Louisiana, he said. The state has almost 400,000 acres of rice this year.

The biggest losses appear to be in Calcasieu, Cameron, Vermilion and Jefferson Davis parishes of Louisiana.

“The big unknown at the moment is the ratoon rice in that area,” Harrell said. “Ratoon rice is very important economically, and it, too, can be lost if the ratoon stubble remains submerged for several days.”

That’s what farmer Paul Johnson tried to prevent on his farm near Bell City, La., where 17 in. of rain fell during the storm system. He got in a boat and used hay bales to plug levee breaks that were flooding his ratoon crop.

Johnson said he’s keeping an eye on two potential threats: a storm brewing in the Atlantic and an area of disturbed weather in the Bay of Campeche.

The northern Louisiana harvest was shaping up to be a bumper crop before Harvey made landfall, Harrell said.

Keith Collins, Louisiana State University AgCenter extension agent in Richland Parish, La., said it’s too early to know if the storm hurt northern Louisiana's rice. Sunshine was expected over Labor Day weekend, which would dry things out enough for people to assess damage, he said.

The cotton crop in northern Louisiana is close to harvest, and about 20% of the corn remains to be harvested. AgCenter cotton and corn specialist Dan Fromme said he has not heard of any damage to either crop from Harvey.

“It’s still a little early to tell,” he said, adding that more would be known this week.

No crop flooding from Harvey has been reported in northern Louisiana.

Sikes still was concerned about what Harvey could do to his 3,000 acres of cotton in Tensas Parish, La. “I was ready to defoliate before this,” Sikes said, adding that not much more yield loss was expected beyond what the area had already predicted due to previous recent bad weather cycles.

Habetz checked a field of second-crop rice that wasn’t completely covered by high water. Muddy conditions for the first-crop harvest resulted in rutted fields that left large gaps in the rice.

Habetz also is concerned about hay for his cattle. Pastures have been too wet to harvest hay throughout the summer, and field conditions have been too wet to bale rice straw. “It’s been so wet all summer,” he said. “Nobody’s got any hay.”

Habetz’s cousin, Fred Habetz, said his rice field just a few miles from the Texas state line had gotten 12 in. of rain since the downpours started on Aug. 24. Most of his fields hadn’t fully matured, so his rice had not started sprouting, but he was worried that his fields might flood again from the opening of the dam at Toledo Bend, just like they flooded in the spring of 2016.

In addition, Fred Habetz said he had to replant his rice this year because ducks ate his seed.

Craig Zaunbrecher of Welsh, La., said he had 300 acres of rice that flooded. He already had to replant that field because of flooding in the spring. “We’re very concerned about it,” he said. “Looks like we’re going to lose it twice.”

Problems aren’t limited to rice and soybeans, however.

Andrew Granger, Louisiana State University AgCenter extension agent in Vermilion Parish, La., said westerly winds blew down sugarcane as Harvey moved inland. “Tall cane and muddy ground are not a good combination,” he said.

Granger said the cane will continue growing, but it will start curving, and that makes planting whole stalks of cane difficult. Farmers may have to use cut pieces of stalk, called billets, for planting.

Lodged cane also can affect yields, Granger said, but such an occurrence “remains to be seen.”

Many cattle owners had moved their herds to higher ground, but Jimmy Meaux, AgCenter extension agent in Calcasieu Parish, La., said rising water left some cattle herds near Creole standing in water up to 36 in. deep.

Water on the east side of the parish was likely to recede before the west side, where flooding from the Toledo Bend release was likely, he said.

Kevin Savoie, AgCenter and Sea Grant extension agent in Cameron Parish, La., said floodwater from the north will have to pass through Cameron Parish, and that will cause high water to remain in the area.

“We’re trying to get back to normal,” Savoie said. The storm surge amounted to only 1-2 ft. of water, and heavy rains caused most flooding.

“We’ve got a bad mosquito problem on the way,” he said. Spraying operations for the insects have been stalled because of stormy weather, giving mosquitoes a head start.

Bradley Pousson, Louisiana State University AgCenter extension agent in Cameron Parish, said cattle owners are worried about feeding their herds. “We are searching for hay right now,” he said. “It’s scarce, and some are already asking for (hay).”

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