Flooding in South costing farmers millions

Rain remains in forecast after some areas have received more than a foot of rain.

Just weeks after excessive rains in parts of east Texas and Louisiana brought historic floods, farmers and families across much of north, central and southeast Texas are also experiencing flooding. The flooding will cost farmers millions in lost revenues and damage to their crops and livestock, according to Louisiana State University (LSU) AgCenter economist Kurt Guidry.

In Louisiana alone, he estimated that losses now exceed $10 million and could continue to rise. The impact includes the costs of replanting flooded fields, potential crop yield losses and having to relocate livestock herds, according to Guidry, who has been surveying the damage around Louisiana.

At least 6 in. of rain fell between March 7 and 11 in much of Louisiana, with some areas receiving more than 20 in. of rain. Although floodwaters have mostly receded from the heaviest-hit parishes in northern Louisiana, that water is now creating issues farther south in places that didn’t flood when the rain first hit, including Franklin and Catahoula parishes, Guidry said.

President Barack Obama has declared 36 parishes — mostly in northern and central Louisiana — as disaster areas eligible for federal assistance.

Guidry’s preliminary estimate of flood damage to the agriculture industry is $10-15 million, but that number is likely to grow.

“This estimate is still evolving as more information is collected and decisions are made on the amount of acreage that will need to be replanted,” he said.

Corn fields in northern Louisiana saw some of the greatest damage: As many as 55,000 acres of corn were flooded and will have to be replanted.

“Fortunately, for most of the major row crops in Louisiana, planting hadn’t begun to any significant measure,” Guidry said. “The impact for these crops to this point has been disruption of field preparations, which could result in planting delays that could ultimately impact yields.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has reported that several Louisiana commodities are behind the five-year average pace for planting and harvesting. Only about half of Louisiana’s corn acres were planted as of April 3, while the average of the past five years is for 82% of acres to be planted by that time.

Rice and grain sorghum planting, as well as wheat harvest, are behind the five-year average too. Planting delays may force some farmers to switch acreage — especially corn acres — to other commodities, Guidry said.

At least 400 head of beef cattle died in the flooding, and livestock operations are facing increased costs associated with relocating their herds and losing available land for grazing, Guidry said. At least 1,500 bales of stored hay and 2,000 acres of fencing were also lost in floodwaters.

LSU AgCenter personnel have been assisting in damage assessments and other recovery efforts, he said.

Fayette County, Texas, farmer Gerard Hajovsky measured more than a foot of rain on April 18. He lives “downriver” from the Colorado River south of La Grange and ended up using a boat to check his land and pecan orchard this week.

“We’ve got a lot of corn underwater. It goes anywhere from a couple of inches to several feet. It’s slowly draining off, but the river’s not going down fast enough. It needs to get off the corn crop pretty quick here,” Hajovsky said in an interview on the Texas Farm Bureau Radio Network.

He doesn't yet know the effect of the flooding on his pecan trees. “They were just starting to pollinate,” Hajovsky said. "The rain might have hampered some of the pollination, but that’s our biggest problem right now."

Hajovsky said as the water recedes off the corn, there is silt left on the plant. “We could use a little rain to wash it off, and maybe that will help it grow and get started again,” he added.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has declared a state of emergency in nine counties due to the deadly flooding but said there are "probably more counties that will be declared.”

Abbott said parts of Harris County, Texas, received well more than a foot of rain. “In those areas, as well as the waterways around them, there is and will continue to be rising water for a while,” he said.

Rain remains in the forecast for the areas.

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