Howard J. Cormier, Saichuk, John K., Schultz, Bruce, Linscombe, Steven D.
Vermilion Parish rice farmer David Lacour emerged from a rice bin recently, covered in sweat and dust.
"The water came up to here," Lacour said, pointing to a level where the water rose from Hurricane Rita’s storm surge. "We’re going to take rice out right to a level above that door."
The storm’s surge flooded the bins of Lacour and his father, Francis Lacour, ruining the lower several feet of rice stored in those bins. Now they are working to separate the good rice from the bad – a difficult and time-consuming process.
The bad rice can be sold for pet food, Lacour said, explaining it was damaged by moisture and heat, since the storm knocked out power that could have been used to keep ventilating fans running.
Lacour is back to using the fans, powered by generators, to suck moist, dank air out of the containers. He said holes poked in the bottom seams of the bins also allowed floodwater to escape.
As if that weren’t enough, once all the rice is removed from each bin, there’s more work.
"We’ve got to pull the floors out because of the moisture," he said.
Lacour obtained a portable auger to move the rice out of the bins.
"Sunday (Oct. 2), we shoveled a load," he said of the work they were doing about a week after the storm.
Worse yet, flooding of the rice wasn’t the only damage at the Lacour farm – like the farms of many in southeastern Louisiana.
Francis Lacour’s home was flooded, and, as testament to the power of the surge, a 1,500-gallon propane tank is gone without a trace.
LSU AgCenter agent Howard Cormier of Vermilion Parish said he checked on the Lacour farm last week (Oct. 5), and things looked slightly better than originally expected.
Some rice in the bottom of the bins already was sprouting, Cormier said, but damage appeared to be limited. Unfortunately, however, Cormier said Lacour had only gotten the rice out of one bin after more than a week of hard work.
A neighbor’s rice looked much worse, Cormier said. "It was still wet and starting to turn black."
David Lacour said several other Vermilion Parish farmers have damaged rice from the surge.
To the west, farmer John Denison of Iowa had to scramble to find generators to run dryers, because the power has been out at his farm since Rita hit. He had 1,700 barrels of freshly cut rice.
"It may be all right," he said.
Farmer Jimmy Hoppe said he has a field of soybeans ready to cut, but elevators in the area don’t have any power.
Hoppe said he isn’t even going to cut a second crop of rice.
"I don’t think it will be worth cutting," he said. "Much of the grain is off the panicles, and the panicles that were in bloom were messed up in the flowering."
Worse yet, saltwater pushed inland could cause more long-term damage to fields.
Dr. Johnny Saichuk, LSU AgCenter rice specialist, said sampling will be done to determine areas with highest concentrations of salt contamination. But he said first the water has to recede from all the areas.
"I think it’s important for us to sample everything all at one time," he said.
Dr. Steve Linscombe, the LSU AgCenter’s regional director for Southwest Louisiana, told a group of farmers from the Gueydan area that measures can be taken to remediate a field with high levels of salt.
Gypsum can be added, he said, and fresh water can be used to flood fields with heavy salt concentrations to flush out the mineral.
Fields that were already flooded for a second crop of rice probably won’t be as affected, since the soil was already saturated, he said, adding that some soil types also won’t be as susceptible to contamination.
"In some cases, it’s going to be a pretty severe impact," Linscombe said of the cases where he couldn’t be quite as optimistic.