Dry Weather Puts Strain On Louisiana Farmers

6/15/2006 7:57:42 PM

News Release Distributed 06/15/06

As dry weather persists across Louisiana, the state’s farmers are facing difficult times, according to observers with the LSU AgCenter.

"The situation with the dry conditions is becoming more important every day we do not receive rainfall," said Dr. David Lanclos, an LSU AgCenter soybean and corn specialist.

Lanclos said the corn crop is in the kernel-filling stage – one of the most critical times to avoid moisture stress of the plants.

"Most corn statewide continues to be irrigated," he said. "However, rain is needed to maximize yield potential."

The soybean specialist also said the lack of moisture has been a problem for soybeans for most of the season.

"Our overall crop is shorter than normal due to early-season drought stress," Lanclos said. "This has caused some concern in the field. The dry conditions are really going to become a problem in the next week or so when the earliest portion of or crop reaches R5 or seed fill."

Without adequate water, soybean plants won’t fill out to their potential size, and that, in turn, translates to lower yields, Lanclos said.

Cotton growers also are moving into a stage where the lack of rain could be more of a problem.

"Although it’s dry, we’re not overly concerned right now," said LSU AgCenter cotton specialist Dr. Sandy Stewart, stressing, however, that concerns could increase over the next couple of weeks.

Cotton is relatively drought tolerant and doesn’t have a high water requirement until it blooms, Stewart explained. That stage will begin in about two weeks, he said.

"At bloom, the water requirement ramps up quickly," he said. That means the cotton crop could begin to suffer without rainfall in the next two weeks, Stewart said.

The LSU AgCenter cotton specialist also said some growers will begin to irrigate their cotton over the next seven to 10 days to provide it with much-needed moisture. "But there’s no substitute for rainfall," he said.

Stewart said rainfall in the Shreveport area last week put the cotton crop there "in good shape."

"But in Northeast Louisiana and in the Red River Valley down to Pointe Coupee Parish, it’s getting drier by the day," he said.

Sugarcane farmers in South Louisiana are faring a little better because timely rains in mid-May helped that crop.

"Where we’ve had rain, crops are growing nicely," said Dr. Ben Legendre, LSU AgCenter sugarcane specialist.

Legendre said sugarcane that received timely rains in May began to grow well and send up suckers – young shoots.

"If it stays dry, the young suckers will die and ultimately affect yield," he said.

During the time from June through August, sugarcane should be growing about an inch a day, Legendre said. "In areas hurting for moisture, growth is about half of normal."

The LSU AgCenter sugarcane specialist said the most-affected areas are Lafourche, Terrebonne and St. Mary parishes.

Rice farmers near the coast also are suffering, according to LSU AgCenter county agent Howard Cormier of Vermilion Parish.

"Bad and getting worse," is how Cormier describes the situation, which already has seen a number of farmers giving up planting this year as a result of last year’s hurricane damage and other factors.

"Now our concern is going into next year and beyond," he said. "Without disaster payments, farmers are not going to be able to fight salt water, high diesel prices and low rice prices."

Many have found work off their farms, he said. Worse yet, Cormier said salt levels in surface water in the area are rising – meaning some have stopped pumping irrigation water and thus been forced to abandon fields.

"The longer we go without rain, the more the salt keeps moving up in the canals," he said.

Some rice fields that were planted late have been abandoned, Cormier said, but fields that are maturing are more resistant to salt.

Vermilion Parish rice acreage, at 31,000 acres, is only 40 percent of last year's total, Cormier said, and much of that decline is due to farmers not being able to plant on land that was inundated by storm surge from Hurricane Rita.

Eddie Eskew, LSU AgCenter county agent in Jefferson Davis Parish, said salt water is higher in some areas than it was before rain last month, and farmers are questioning if they will be able to make a second crop if the salt levels remain high.

As for potential good news, land that was planted this year will be fallow next year, Eskew said, so canals can be flushed of salt, whenever it rains again.

Likewise, one high point is that because of the low moisture levels, county agents have found few rice fields afflicted with fungal disease, according to Dr. Johnny Saichuk, LSU AgCenter rice specialist.

LSU AgCenter experts said it’s too early to tell exactly how the current drought ultimately will affect this year’s crops, but they know it will have some effects.

"We still have a long way to go," Legendre said of sugarcane.

Lanclos also said it’s too early in the season for farmers to give up hope.

"I must stress, though, that it is the most critical time," Lanclos said. "The crop needs water to continue growing adequately."

Without adequate vegetative production, yields will be reduced long term, he said. "We need rainfall statewide to improve the overall status of soybean, corn and grain sorghum," Lanclos said.

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Contacts:
David Lanclos at (318) 473-6530 or dlanclos@agcenter.lsu.edu
Sandy Stewart at (318) 473-6522 or sstewart@agcenter.lsu.edu
Ben Legendre at (225) 642-0224 or blegendre@agcenter.lsu.edu
Writers:
Rick Bogren at (225) 578-5839 or rbogren@agcenter.lsu.edu
Bruce Schultz at (337) 788-8821 or bschultz@agcenter.lsu.edu

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