Dry Weather Helping Most But Not All Farmers

Richard Bogren, Grymes, John, McCormick, Michael E., Kelly, Steven T., Twidwell, Edward K.  |  10/9/2006 11:45:06 PM

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News Release Distributed 11/14/2003

A drier-than-normal fall has been a boon to most Louisiana farmers, allowing easy harvest of cotton and sugarcane. Dairy farmers, on the other hand, would like to see rain.

Louisiana dairy farmers, who have endured low milk prices for a while, are seeing the milk market recover at a time when lack of rainfall is preventing them from taking full advantage of the improvement.

"We’re like a lot of people – replanting in anticipation of rain next week," said Dr. Mike McCormick, resident coordinator of the LSU AgCenter’s Southeast Research Station at Franklinton. The station maintains a 180-head dairy herd for research.

"We had to replant 30 percent to 40 percent of our ryegrass at the station," McCormick said, explaining the earlier-planted seed didn’t survive during the recent dry period.

"It’s a concern, especially since prices are up and production is down," he added.

Louisiana dairy farmers depend on fall and winter ryegrass pastures as the major feed source for their cows, which generally reach peak production in November after recovering from the heat of the summer. To compensate, farmers are feeding hay and silage they stored last summer.

"Stored forages are going too fast," McCormick said, noting the dry weather is "costing farmers a good bit of money."

Beef producers are faring better, according to Dr. Ed Twidwell, an agronomist with the LSU AgCenter.

"Beef producers don’t rely on early-season ryegrass like dairy farmers do and can sustain longer," Twidwell said. "Beef can get by with lower-quality pasture."

Twidwell said last summer saw plentiful hay, although it’s not high quality because of too much rain during critical periods of the summer. Even so, beef producers don’t have to worry about running out of feed before rains bring on winter ryegrass.

The only beef producers who might be anxious about rain are those who are trying to put weight on young calves, Twidwell said.

The LSU AgCenter agronomist also said farmers currently are planting winter wheat, and that crop is in no danger from the dry weather right now. The seed simply will stay in the ground and begin to grow when the rains come.

"Rain will solve a lot of problems," Twidwell said.

Weather over the entire state of Louisiana has been unseasonably dry over the past month to six weeks, according to Jay Grymes, LSU AgCenter climatologist, who said the next best chance for rain will be early next week.

"It’s been drier than normal, even for the dry season," Grymes said.

Grymes said rainfall has been less than 2 inches over the past six weeks in the northern and central portions of the state – about a fourth of what it should be – and even less than that in South Louisiana.

He said a weak front should be moving through the state in the next few days, but that front will bring little if any rain. The next "really decent chance of rain" will be next Sunday or Monday, Grymes said.

Grymes said the end-of-fall, beginning-of-winter outlook "should change up to the typical winter season.

"October is typically the driest month of the year, and early November tends to hold on to a dry spell," he said.

By mid-December, pastures and fields should show recovery, Grymes said.

Sugarcane farmers who planted in early August got timely rains, according to Dr. Ben Legendre, sugarcane specialist with the LSU AgCenter’s Sugar Research Station at St. Gabriel.

"The crop is up to an excellent start now," he said.

On the other hand, some growers in extreme southern parts of the state still are planting sugarcane and waiting for rains to get their crops out of the ground and actively growing. But Legendre said it’s not a big problem for sugarcane growers.

"We’re not suffering from a lack of moisture at this time," Legendre said.

In fact, thanks to dry weather, the state’s sugarcane growers are running ahead of schedule with harvesting this year’s crops and enjoying improved sugar yields per ton of cane, he said.

For cotton farmers, who are finishing harvest, late fall generally is a time for applying herbicides to kill problem weeds after the crop is out of the field. But dry weather is hampering their work.

"You can expect less herbicide uptake when plants are stressed," said Dr. Steve Kelly, an LSU AgCenter weed scientist at the Northeast Research Station Macon Ridge branch in Winnsboro.

Kelly said growers can expect a little more crop injury when herbicides are applied to pastures and suggested producers wait for rains when the weed killers would be more effective.

The weeds will continue to grow and be susceptible to herbicide treatments until the first killing frost, he said.

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Contacts:
Ed Twidwell at (225) 578-2118 or etwidwell@agcenter.lsu.edu
Mike McCormick at (985) 839-2322 or memccormick@agcenter.lsu.edu
Jay Grymes at (225) 578-6870 or jgrymes@agcenter.lsu.edu
Ben Legendre at (225) 642-0224 or blegendre@agcenter.lsu.edu
Steve Kelly at (318) 435-2908 or skelly@agcenter.lsu.edu
Writer:
Rick Bogren at (225) 578-5839 or rbogren@agcenter.lsu.edu

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