Hurricanes Can Hamper Louisiana Agriculture

7/13/2005 9:23:53 PM

News Release Distributed 07/08/05

For Louisiana farmers, there is never a good time for a tropical storm or hurricane. But there is definitely a worst-case scenario – depending on the crop.

"The worst time for a storm is when it hits at the beginning of the harvest season," said LSU AgCenter sugarcane specialist Dr. Ben Legendre.

"Wind and rain can cause the sugarcane to lodge, affecting cane growth and maturity, and with the lodging and excessive rain, harvesting efficiency is compromised," Legendre said. "Generally speaking, there is considerable loss of cane in the field, and the cane that is harvested is of poor quality with excessive trash and mud."

The harvest season for corn and soybeans is also a tenuous time for a storm.

"If a storm comes in three days before we harvest, it can be seven to 10 days before you can get a combine back in the field," said LSU AgCenter soybean and corn specialist Dr. David Lanclos.

But Lanclos said that is no longer his biggest fear. "Right now, my biggest fear would be rust."

Asian soybean rust was discovered last year in Louisiana and has the potential to devastate soybean yields. It is believed that soybean rust spores were carried into Louisiana by winds from the 2004 hurricane season.

While higher storm activity for 2005 is a concern, where a hurricane hits land is most important.

"While the last 10 years have seen record numbers of tropical systems in the Atlantic and the Gulf, the percentage of these storms making landfall in the U.S. has been down," said LSU AgCenter climatologist Jay Grymes.

"The recent trend of increased storm numbers each season is likely to continue for another 10 to 20 years," Grymes said. "While many of those storms have remained out at sea in recent years, that trend will probably not continue."

According to Grymes, the multiple storms that hit Florida last year could be an indicator of things to come. In fact, Louisiana had its busiest year in history in 2002, with four storms reaching land. Sugarcane farmers are still feeling the impact of Tropical Storm Isidore and Hurricane Lili in 2002.

"The total damage from those storms on sugarcane was $122 million," said Legendre.

It is not unusual for farmers to deal with flooding in Louisiana, but the timing of most floods does not occur during harvest.

"Seventy percent or more of Louisiana’s floods are winter/spring events," Grymes said.

The 2002 storms also had a negative impact on the Louisiana cotton crop. The central part of the state reported a 50 percent loss.

"The main damage was from Lili and the winds associated with that storm," said LSU AgCenter cotton specialist Dr. Sandy Stewart. "The wind and rain associated with a storm can severely damage a cotton crop, especially when the cotton is open. But the wind can blow much of your cotton on the ground."

Rice has similar problems.

"If the crop is mature, but it is not ready to harvest, a storm can knock down the rice stalks because they are weak," said LSU AgCenter rice specialist Dr. Johnny Saichuk. "From mid-July to mid-August is when the rice crop is most susceptible to a storm."

According to Saichuk, once the harvest begins in late July and early August, the damage to the crop can be limited.

"As long as rice is in the field, it is at risk," he said.

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Contact:
Ben Legendre at (225) 642-0224 or belegendre@agcenter.lsu.edu
David Lanclos at (318) 473-6530 or dlanclos@agcenter.lsu.edu
Jay Grymes at (225) 578-6870 or jgrymes@agcenter.lsu.edu
Sandy Stewart at (318) 473-6522 or sstewart@agcenter.lsu.edu
Johnny Saichuk at (337) 788-7547 or jsaichuk@agcenter.lsu.edu
Writer:
Bobby Soileau at (225) 578-5670 or bsoileau@agcenter.lsu.edu

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