Katrina Hurts Louisiana Milk Citrus Cattle Sugarcane Production; Nursery Industry Suffers Too

Kurt Guidry, Stewart, Sandy, Hendrix, James, Lee, Donna R., Flanagan, Jimmy W., Schultz, Bruce  |  9/1/2005 8:23:37 PM

Hurricane Katrina downed this field of sugarcane, as well as a power pole, near the Raceland sugar mill.

Terrebonne Parish sugarcane farmer Norris Matherne stands next to a field of downed cane along La. 311.

Centerville sugarcane farmer Bobby Judice, at left, inspects a field of St. Mary Parish cane with LSU AgCenter county agent Jimmy Flanagan, center, and farmer Mike Robicheaux.

News Release Distributed 08/31/05

While most eyes are focused on New Orleans, the surrounding countryside has suffered a severe blow from Hurricane Katrina that’s expected to affect several Louisiana agricultural commodities.

Sugarcane has been knocked down, milk production has been interrupted and even some crops in Northeast Louisiana are damaged. However, because communication and electricity are in short supply, getting a clear picture of the impact is difficult and will take weeks to fully ascertain.

Dr. Kurt Guidry, LSU AgCenter economist, said the dairy industry has been hurt, although the extent isn’t known.

"Most producers had to dump both Monday’s and Tuesday’s milk production because they simply had no where to send it, and if they had a plant to send it to, they could not get the transportation worked out," Guidry said.

He said that many of the plants that take milk from producers are now functioning, but three are still not on-line.

"So from that standpoint, there is concern regarding the logistics of getting milk from the farm to plants," Guidry said.

The hurricane damaged facilities of at least one milk producer, Guidry said.

A fourth of the state’s nursery industry is in Southeast Louisiana.

"While it is unknown at this time the exact nature of the damage, it appears that these areas were hit very hard by the storm and that the nursery operations in those areas could have sustained considerable damage," Guidry said.

Citrus, especially in Plaquemines Parish, probably has been devastated.

"I haven’t heard anything from Plaquemines Parish. It is safe to say that this was a very hard hit area," Guidry said.

According to 2004 Ag Summary, the total citrus industry in the state was around $6.3 million of which $5 million was in Plaquemines.

Sugarcane farmers in areas closest to the path of Hurricane Katrina are looking at an additional harvest challenge because high winds knocked cane down. And they say harvest may be delayed past the regular schedule of early October.

In Terrebonne Parish, Norris Matherne commiserated with a group of other long-faced farmers Tuesday.

"The thing that frightens me as a grower, for the cane to right itself, it’s going to take some energy out of that plant," Matherne said.

To complicate things even further, the wet fields will delay planting that had gotten off to a good start, he said. "That gave us a glimmer of hope."

Cane lying perpendicular to the rows will be easier to harvest than cane knocked down parallel to the furrows, he said.

"Even if we can pick it all up, we’re not going to get the tonnage or sugar," he said.

This could be the end for many farmers who have been hanging by a thread, Matherne said.

"With low prices, high fuel costs and CAFTA, this is one more headache."

In St. Mary Parish, the damage was more obvious with most fields showing cane bent over.

"This is bad, but it could have been two or three times worse," said Centerville cane farmer Bobby Judice.

Another cane farmer in Centerville, Mike Robicheaux, said the expected sunshine of the next few days will help fields recover. But he said cane will put its energy into recovering instead of growing.

The cane will have to stand upright before a ripening agent can be applied, he said. Harvest will be slower too, Robicheaux said.

"It increases the difficulty we have," he said.

Judice said the harvest will go smoother if the fields are dry.

"If it rains, it’s Katy-bar-the-door," Judice said.

Jimmy Flanagan, LSU AgCenter county agent in St. Mary Parish, said cane in Iberia and St. Mary will lose days of growth.

"I think we’re probably still looking at a 10 percent setback," Flanagan said. "Of course, ours is nothing what it will be like in those river parishes."

The river parishes of St. John the Baptist, St. James, St. Charles, Iberville, Assumption and Ascension total more than 115,000 acres, a third of the state’s crop, but word of the crop’s condition there hasn’t been passed along.

The rice harvest is almost finished in Southwest Louisiana, which was untouched by the storm but there is damage in North Louisiana rice fields that include slightly less than a third of the state’s 530,000 acres.

Donna Lee, LSU AgCenter county agent in East Carroll Parish, said her first look showed considerable lodging (falling over of the plant).

"I took a quick tour of the parish yesterday (Tuesday Aug. 30) and saw about 60 percent of the rice is down," she said.

James Hendrix, LSU AgCenter agent in Tensas Parish, said a tour of the parish Tuesday (Aug. 30) showed quite a bit of the rice down.

"We will have some loss," Hendrix said. "The rice was ready to harvest, and now about 70 percent to 80 percent is down."

Some cotton fields in North Louisiana also were damaged.

Dr. Sandy Stewart, LSU AgCenter cotton specialist, toured fields Tuesday (Aug. 30) from Pointe Coupee Parish to Franklin Parish, and the areas most affected appear to be in Concordia, Tensas and Madison parishes. He said it is too early to put any figures on the damage.

"The overall condition of the cotton crop is still good. The bulk of the state’s cotton was apparently far enough west to avoid major wind damage," he said.

"Losses range from very light to moderate and are due primarily to high winds," he said.

Some cotton was blown out of the bolls and onto the ground, he said.

"Additionally, there is some lodging of plants, which always increases the potential for future losses from boll rot pathogens and can possibly increase defoliation," he said.

Dr. Bob Hutchinson, director of the LSU AgCenter’s Northeast Region, said some corn and cotton were lodged, but soybeans seemed to weather the storm best.

Guidry said it’s not clear how badly forestry was affected.

"As far as the forestry industry, again I haven’t heard anything. With the damage that appears to have occurred in these three parishes, particularly St. Tammany and Washington, this could be a big impact on the forestry industry," he said.

According to the LSU AgCenter’s 2004 Ag Summary, forestry in St. Tammany, Washington and Tangipahoa is valued at $83 million, just over 6 percent of the $1.3 billion value of the state’s entire forestry industry.

Guidry said there is no clear word on the hurricane’s impact on cattle either.

"But it is probably safe to say that we have had pastures affected and could have lost some cattle," he said.

According to National Agricultural Statistics Service, as of Jan. 1, 2005, there were 121,500 head of cattle and calves in the Florida parishes with 28,550 of those being dairy cattle. In the eastern coastal parishes up through Ascension parish, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that there were 48,000 head of cattle and calves.

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Contacts:
Kurt Guidry at (225) 578-4567 or kmgruidry@agcenter.lsu.edu
Jimmy Flanagan at (337) 828-4100 Ext. 300 or jflangan@agcenter.lsu.edu
Donna Lee at (318) 559-1459 or drlee@agcenter.lsu.edu
James Hendrix at (318) 766-3222 or jhendrix@agcenter.lsu.edu
Sandy Stewart at (318) 473-6522 or sstewart@agcenter.lsu.edu
Writer:
Bruce Schultz at (337) 788-8821 or bschultz@agcenter.lsu.edu

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