Rice, soybeans take hit from recent flooding

(08/26/16) PORT BARRE, La. – This is Samuel Buller’s first year to farm on his own, and the 21-year-old was looking at a good rice crop. But recent flooding changed that.

Buller’s yields are reduced, grain quality will suffer, and about a third of the plants in a 280-acre field fell over and sprouted. “It was some of my best looking rice,” he said.

Buller was able to get back on the combine on Aug. 24 and harvest the rice that wasn’t sprouting. Of the rice that can be cut, he said, the yield is ranging from 38 to 40 barrels an acre.

He doesn’t plan to have much of a second crop. “We’re just going to lick our wounds and hope for a better crop next year,” he said.

There is a bright spot for Buller, however.

“All my soybeans look good,” he said. “They’re on higher ground.”

Many other rice farmers are in the same boat as Buller with recent flooding that ruined considerable acreage for Louisiana rice and soybean farmers. The LSU AgCenter estimates that rice will be affected, with $34 million in losses, and soybean damage adds another $46 million to the $110 million total of agricultural losses from high water.

Rice that has sprouted could still be sold if it has not developed leaves like Buller’s, although it would not be acceptable for packaged rice. “There are other markets for it,” said AgCenter rice specialist Dustin Harrell.

Samples would have to be taken to a mill to determine if it can be used, he said, and sprouted rice would have to be kept separate from normal rice.

As much as 25 percent of the unharvested rice could be lost, Harrell said. Louisiana has 430,000 acres of rice this year. About three-fourths of the crop in south Louisiana has been cut, and harvest is just starting in north Louisiana.

Jeffrey Sylvester, of Whiteville, said 2 inches of rain on Aug. 22 added to his problems. “I had to build a levee on top of a road, and a field still flooded,” he said. “The water stopped just below the heads” of the rice plants.

Sylvester expects half of his 400 acres of soybeans will be a total loss.

Vince Deshotel, LSU AgCenter county agent in St. Landry Parish, said only 30 to 40 percent of the parish’s 24,000 acres of rice was harvested. Much of the remaining rice will be reduced in quality or written off as a loss, he said.

Farmer Charlie Fontenot resumed cutting his rice crop Aug. 24 in St. Landry Parish, but he realizes his crop will suffer with a reduction in yield and quality. “It’s definitely going to be a yield loss,” he said.

Before the flood, Fontenot’s yield was around 46 barrels, but it has since fallen, he said.

“Our major loss is going to be the soybeans,” he said. Several of his soybean fields will be a total loss after remaining flooded for several days.

Richard Duhon, of Maurice, grows 1,200 acres of soybeans along with 2,700 acres of sugarcane. Several soybeans fields were submerged, and now Duhon is left thinking what might have resulted from the soybean plants that are loaded with pods of developing beans.

“I think it would have been one of the best bean crops we ever had,” he said.

AgCenter soybean specialist Ron Levy agreed. He “had a tremendous crop,” Levy said.

Floodwaters prevent the plant roots from getting air, then as the water drops, the water heats and scalds the roots, he said.

Soybeans are in the final growth stages, with the start of harvest about three weeks away for most south Louisiana farmers.

Soybean plants can survive two to three days of flooding. But even after the water recedes, soybeans are still threatened, Levy said. Waterlogged soil can cause plants to die because roots are sealed from getting air, suffocating the plants.

AgCenter yield estimate is certain to increase for Louisiana’s 1.2 million acres of soybeans, Levy said. The current estimate is $46 million in losses. “Until the crop is harvested, we won’t know what the losses will be,” he said.

The forecast for more rain is likely to affect grain quality.

Heavy rains in north Louisiana also are damaging soybeans there, Levy said.

Christian Richard, of Indian Bayou, said he hadn’t been able to assess the potential losses on his rice and soybean farm. “I don’t really know because I had a lot of fields I couldn’t get to,” he said.

Adler Stelly, of Vermilion Parish, said his crop is underwater again. It was flooded the first time shortly after planting. Of 800 acres, he estimated that flooding has submerged 500 acres, and he said the outlook is not good for grain quality.

“It’s got every kind of disease you can think of. It’s going to be tough,” Stelly said.

Stelly, who also runs a shrimping business, said the floodwaters have pushed shrimp out of Vermilion Bay. He’s also worried about the effects on his crawfish crop because of stagnant water that is receding slowly.

Stelly had helped evacuate 150 head of cattle in Pecan Island, including some of his own. “We’ve got a mess, no matter how you look at it,” he said.

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Farmer Samuel Buller holds a rice plant with rice that had sprouted after the 48-acre field had fallen over into floodwater. Buller said the rice fell over because the panicles were loaded with a good crop, but he was able to harvest a few other fields between rains. Photo by Bruce Schultz

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A flooded soybean field on the Charlie Fontenot farm near Palmetto, Louisiana. Photo by Bruce Schultz

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Farmer Richard Duhon, of Maurice, walks through a field of dead soybean plants. The field was submerged with knee-deep water for several days, and LSU AgCenter soybean specialist Ron Levy said the plants cannot survive without air that provides oxygen. The fields are near Indian Bayou in Lafayette Parish. Photo by Bruce Schultz

8/30/2016 7:08:43 PM
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