Dry weather concerns La. farmers

Richard Bogren, Guidry, Kurt M., Schultz, Bruce

News Release Distributed 05/26/11

Louisiana farmers are waiting for rain, and planting is a little behind normal because of drought throughout the state, according to experts with the LSU AgCenter.

“With many of the crops still in the early stages of their development, it is probably too early to determine the full extent of the impacts of these drought conditions,” said LSU AgCenter economist Kurt Guidry. Obviously, weather conditions over the next several weeks will go a long way to either improving or worsening the situation for producers.”

Current crop conditions reported for the state by the National Agricultural Statistics Service aren’t significantly different from those at this time last year for most of our major crops, Guidry said. But continued dry weather would certainly create some significant production issues for our producers.

“We could see a long-lasting impact on yield if drought conditions persist,” he said. Year-to-date rainfall totals reported are running about 10 inches below normal for the state, with rainfall deficits ranging from 1 inch to as high as 17 inches.

The major effect for row crop producers at this time is on production costs, Guidry said. Drought conditions are requiring additional irrigation, and with energy costs as high as they are, additional irrigation is undoubtedly going to affect the bottom line for producers.

“For livestock producers, condition ratings for pastures are significantly lower than year-ago levels,” he said. “This likely means that producers have to incur the costs of providing supplemental hay or feed to maintain livestock.”

Production effects depend on the stage the crop is in, Guidry said. “Corn is probably the crop that is furthest along in its maturity and therefore has the least amount of time for any rains to make a positive impact. For dryland corn, moisture is going to be needed fairly quickly if there is any chance to have average yields.”

Other crops are early enough in their production cycle that rains could come and drastically improve the yield outlook. “Of course, a continuation of these conditions would likely start drastically impacting yield potential,” Guidry said.

Most crops could tolerate dry weather a little longer, Guidry said, and planting hasn’t slowed much. Federal crop reports say cotton planting was 96 percent as of the end of last week and soybean planting percentage is on par with normal.

“While some producers were forced to plant a little later than they would normally like to, the latest crop progress report for the state shows that planting progress for most of the major row crops are on par with both last year’s pace and the five-year average,” Guidry said. “Delayed planting becomes more problematic for some crops now as we are quickly reaching the end of the optimum planting windows.”

In order for cotton to be eligible for crop insurance coverage, the final planting date is May 25; for soybeans it is mid- to late June, depending on whether soybeans are planted following another crop.

The latest crop progress reports for winter wheat show harvest at about 72 percent complete in the state. This is considerably earlier than last year and is likely due to a combination of an early maturing crop influenced by the drought conditions and the need to harvest the crop earlier in light of the flooding associated with the Mississippi River, Guidry said.

Reports from around the state have put yields ranging from about 40 to as high as 80 bushels per acre, with a projected average of about 50 bushels per acre, which would be in line with the five-year average.

Because rice is irrigated, dry weather isn’t a real concern.

Continued drought could result in yield reductions across the board, but for many crops, there’s still time for rains to keep yields close to normal.

“We have a serious concern moving forward,” Guidry said. “For those producers who can irrigate, the impact on yield from the drought conditions can be limited, but not without a substantial increase to their cost of production. For dryland production, additional moisture will be needed for these crops to have a chance for normal yields. And, with the deficit we are currently running on rainfall, we are going to need more than the occasional shower here and there to get rainfall totals back to normal. “

For those on the front lines of raising crops, the picture is more in focus.

Dry conditions are making it difficult to maintain a flood on his rice fields, said farmer Mike Hundley of Acadia Parish.

An electric pump is struggling to keep the water at the proper level on one field, Hundley said. “By the end of the week, if we don’t catch a rain, I’ll have to crank up the diesel, and that’s $600 a day.”

He said he has been able to continue planting soybeans, thanks to a rain in the past few weeks.

Meanwhile, wind is complicating things. “I haven’t sprayed anything in the last week or so,” Hundley said.

Johnny Hensgens in Calcasieu Parish said he had to stop planting soybeans in early May because of no rainfall. The last moisture his farm received was a shower in April, he said, and the drought is making it difficult to keep the correct amount of water on rice.

“We’re a lot drier than the Eunice and Crowley area,” Hensgens said.

Harvey Gonsoulin of Iberia Parish called the current conditions “severe” for his cattle operation.

“We have had half the average rainfall,” he said.

He said he recently had to sell 75 head of stocker calves. “I had to ship them out because I have no grass, and there’s no hay to make.”

Gonsoulin said he normally grazes 25 to 40 stocker calves in the summer. “I’m down to nine.”

Mark Patout, an Iberia Parish sugarcane farmer, said his crop is approaching a critical time. “It’s been two months since we had any rain of any substance.” He said he had to stop planting soybeans because of a lack of moisture.

Sugarcane has produced new stalks well, Patout said, but the crop needs rain. “There’s no encouragement when you look at the long-range forecast.”

Patout said this year reminds him of the 1980 drought. “From a sugarcane standpoint, it’s too early to start panicking.”

Even with a rain, it would take time for plants to recover from stress and start to grow,” Patout said. Surrounding areas have gotten rain, he said. “Everything has been above or below us.”

In Vermilion Parish, farmer Durel Romaine said saltwater is creeping into canals that supply irrigation water for rice. Most farmers have permanent floods on their rice now, he said. “If you are pumping, you are probably pumping saltwater if you are close to the Intracoastal Canal.”

North Louisiana farmers say their crops need rain, but the situation there is not as dire as the drought facing farmers in the south.

Keith Collins, LSU AgCenter county agent in Richland Parish, said rainfall of a half inch to 2 inches was reported last weekend.

“We’re probably in a lot better shape than most,” said farmer Ed Greer of Richland Parish.

Farmer Garrett Marsh in East Carroll Parish said his crops need rain, and his corn appears to be suffering most. Early-planted corn has tasseled, he said, and the rest should start within the week. “The corn is starting to dry up, and it’s starting to twist.”

Soybeans have started growing, and cotton looks good, Marsh said. So far, keeping adequate water on rice has not been a problem.

Marsh’s farm is within sight of the Mississippi River levee, so he also has concerns about the soundness of that structure, and he’s worried that a hard rain could lead to a levee break. “You don’t know what to pray for.”

Rick Bogren
Bruce Schultz

5/26/2011 6:45:01 PM
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