by Craig Geutreaux, Bruce Schulz, LSU AgCenter
ALEXANDRIA, La. – Louisiana is finally enjoying a stretch of sunny weather, but nearly two months of rainy and overcast conditions have already negatively affected many of the state’s major agricultural crops.
In mid-March, much of north Louisiana received record rainfall totals that led to the flooding of many newly planted cornfields. Approximately 40,000 acres of corn were lost, costing farmers nearly $5 million, according to LSU AgCenter estimates.
Some of the acres were replanted, but continuous soggy conditions led some farmers to switch to soybeans as the optimum planting dates for corn passed. Early forecasts had Louisiana corn acres pegged at around 600,000 acres, but that number will be much lower.
“We’ll probably have a lot less acres than that for the 2016 year. It will probably be closer to 400,000 to 450,000 acres,” AgCenter corn and cotton specialist Dan Fromme said.
Two areas of concern for corn growers involve nitrogen fertilization and the development of a shallow root system.
Nitrogen fertilizer is one of the highest input costs associated with corn production. Nitrogen can leech into the soil more easily or be washed away by heavy, excessive rains, Fromme said. Growers should watch their plants to see if they begin yellowing starting at the bottom. This symptom is a sign of a potential nitrogen deficiency.
Extended wet periods can cause corn plants to develop shallow root systems that can lead to problems later in the growing season. “You’re always concerned about that later in the year. If it becomes dry and that root system is developed but not very deep, you can run out of moisture a lot quicker,” Fromme said.
No more than 7,000 acres of the state’s expected 150,000 to 160,000 acres of cotton have been planted, he said. Some cotton had to be replanted because wet weather caused poor initial stands.
Cotton acreage has been in a decline for a decade. In 2006, Louisiana producers grew nearly 625,000 acres of cotton, making it one of the larger row crops in the state. Because of declining acreage, the infrastructure supporting the industry has also decreased.
“Last year we had around 16 or 17 gins, and just a few years ago, we had as many as 54 cotton gins,” Fromme said. “If cotton prices do become more favorable and acres do increase, we may be short on gins to get that processed.”
Prices need to inch up in the neighborhood of 80 cents per pound to get growers more interested as opposed to the current price of the low-to-mid-60 cents per pound, he said.
AgCenter rice specialist Dustin Harrell said heavy rainfall on young rice plants will present a challenge, with rainfall ranging from 6.5 inches in Acadia Parish to 15 inches in Cameron Parish during the past weekend.
Rice plants submerged in muddy water will not be able to receive needed sunlight to grow. “We’ll just have to watch and see how fast we can get the water off,” Harrell said.
Rice plants flooded with clear water is a better situation, but “stretched” rice can result as the plants struggle to grow out of the water. “We just have to be careful when we drain the water off,” he said.
Draining water quickly can cause young plants to fall over in the mud. “The plants will stick to the mud, and as the mud dries, it kills the plants,” Harrell said.
According to Harrell, the best strategy is to leave a slight flood on a field so that the plants will fall over onto water. The 2015 rice crop faced a similar scenario with heavy rainfall early in the growing season, “except the crop is a lot further along than last year,” he said.
Farmers who could not apply fertilizer to dry ground before the heavy rainfall are likely to lose that nutrient to flood waters. “The older the plants are, the better able they are to handle this situation,” Harrell said.
North Louisiana farmers remain in a holding pattern, waiting for better weather to plant, Harrell said.
AgCenter soybean specialist Ronnie Levy said less than 10 percent of the state’s rice crop has been planted. “When you see days of heavy rain in the forecast, nobody is in a big hurry to put seed into an undesirable condition,” he said.
Planting won’t start when the rain stops because fields have to be dry. “It will still be several more days before they can start,” Levy said.
One crop that has weathered the storms and is in decent shape is sugarcane. The mild winter and warmer spring temperatures got the crop off to a good start, according to AgCenter sugarcane specialist Ken Gravois.
The wet weather has made repairing land damaged during last year’s wet grinding season more difficult.
“Some of the land that was really rutted up during the harvest, some of that acreage hasn’t been touched, and those are the worrisome spots,” Gravois said.
Sugarcane farmers are anxious to get back into the fields and do their timely herbicide and fertilizer applications. “We’re not late yet, but we are fast approaching a point where we’ll be looking at late fertilizer applications,” Gravois said.