Unusual Spring Rain Patterns Causing Problems for Farmers

David Y. Lanclos, Stewart, Sandy, Chaney, John A., Keim, Barry, Branch, Bill, Saichuk, John K.  |  5/20/2005 3:03:35 AM

LSU AgCenter water resource specialist Dr. Bill Branch and research associate Royce Fontenot discuss how to download information from this portable agricultural weather station. The station, which recently was relocated to a farm in an underserved rural community near Monterey, is just one in a series of weather stations across Louisiana that are part of the AgCenter’s Louisiana Agriclimatic Information System.

News Release Distributed 05/19/05

Prolonged rains in early spring and unusually dry conditions now across the state are causing many farmers to wonder if they will be able to plant and grow crops this year.

"The early season rains restricted some farmers from planting the acreage in corn they planned," LSU AgCenter soybean and feed grain specialist Dr. David Lanclos said this week. "Now, with a few scattered showers occurring across the state, when farmers get a rain, they rush to plant their crops."

Overall, the state is behind in rainfall, according to Louisiana state climatologist and LSU assistant professor Barry Keim.

"Practically the entire state is suffering from the lack of rainfall," Keim said. "The only area not having serious water shortage problems is the extreme eastern portion of the state, but they're not far behind."

Since the beginning of May, the state has received an average of only 21 percent of the normal rainfall for this period – with the extremes ranging from just 7 percent of normal in Central Louisiana to only 40 percent in the West Central region of the state.

"At present, about 200,000 acres of soybeans need to be planted in the state," said Lanclos, explaining the lack of rain is holding up planting those soybeans.

The lack of rainfall also is affecting corn, cotton and grain sorghum as the drought continues during planting time.

With a lot of cotton to be planted, experts say farmers are forced to make decisions to plant their crops in dry conditions – so they can meet the crop insurance deadlines.

"Some farmers are planting cotton seed in dry seed beds and taking a chance on getting a stand if it rains," said LSU AgCenter cotton specialist Dr. Sandy Stewart. "Other farmers are removing the dry soil from the tops of rows and planting cotton seed in the moist soil underneath."

LSU AgCenter plant breeder Dr. Steve Moore has been hauling water on the Dean Lee Research Station near Alexandria to enhance growth of corn involved in research projects. He also used soaker hoses to irrigate soybeans planted in the nursery on the station, but such measures aren’t readily available to most farmers.

"Scattered showers are in the forecast through the weekend," Keim said of this week’s outlook, adding that the seven-day forecast predicts a front to move into North Louisiana Monday (May 23). But he cautioned long-term forecasts sometimes change.

While the dry weather is a hindrance to some farmers, it’s not a problem for all of them, some experts point out.

"Most sugarcane farmers welcome the dry weather in April and May since it is known to promote tillering (suckering) of the sugarcane plant – thus increasing the stalk population at harvest in September," said LSU AgCenter sugarcane specialist Dr. Ben Legendre. "The lack of rainfall to this point has not caused any problems for sugarcane farmers."

But the experts say that now most farmers are ready for rains to come – since they have finished applying fertilizer, have completed spring cultivation and have applied their layby herbicide.

In another problem area, the lack of rain means Louisiana rice farmers have to pump more water on their fields at a time of record high fuel costs, said LSU AgCenter rice specialist Dr. Johnny Saichuk. But Saichuk said the situation is not all bad.

"Lots of sunshine is good for the rice crop, since it grows in flooded fields," he said, adding that more sunshine suppresses rice diseases and usually increases the yield.

To support the collection of weather data in the state for farmers, the LSU AgCenter has 25 weather stations that continually collect weather information. Most of these weather stations electronically transmit data that becomes part of the AgCenter’s Louisiana Agriclimatic Information System. That information can be viewed at www.lsuagcenter.com/weather.

"The weather stations are located throughout the state, and the information can be obtained online at any time," said LSU AgCenter water resource specialist Dr. Bill Branch, adding, "We recently relocated a portable weather station in an underserved agricultural community near Monterey.

"This will help the LSU AgCenter keep good agricultural weather records in the state," Branch said, explaining that since rain showers are so scattered and variable, farmers are urged to use rain gauges and to keep good weather records on their farms.

For more information on agricultural production and a variety of other topics ranging from nutrition and health to money and business, contact an agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office or visit the Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com.

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Contacts:
Bill Branch at (225) 578- 2917 or bbranch@agcenter.lsu.edu
David Lanclos at (318) 473-6530 or dlanclos@agcenter.lsu.edu
Barry Keim at (225) 578-6170 or keim@lsu.edu
Sandy Stewart at (318) 473-6522 or sstewart@agcenter.lsu.edu
Ben Legendre at (225) 642-0224 blegendre@agcenter.lsu.edu
Johnny Saichuk at (337) 788-7547 or jsaichuk@agcenter.lsu.edu
Writer:
John Chaney at (318) 473-6589 or jchaney@agcenter.lsu.edu

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