WASHINGTON, Aug. 18, 2016 - From underwater fields to drowned cattle, the damage to Louisiana farmers and ranchers from the recent storms and continued flooding is extensive, but state officials say they are doing what they can to prevent losses.
The water is still rising in some areas of Louisiana and the priority is saving human lives – at least 20,000 people have been rescued from their homes by boat or truck – but officials are also working to minimize the damage to farms, Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain told Agri-Pulse.
“We’re trying to get the water out of our basins and into the Gulf of Mexico,” he said. “We’re trying to operate our locks and dams in such a manner to expedite the water going out, but a lot of the backwater has not drained into the major systems yet so we’re having a slow retreat of the water. That’s a big thing.”
Despite those efforts, the damage will still be extensive, Strain predicted.
“Deep flooding rains over the weekend have the entire agriculture production sector wondering what the future holds for this year’s crop,” said Vincent Deshotel, an agent for USDA’s Cooperative Extension Service in Louisiana’s Saint Landry Parish, in a National Agricultural Statistics Service report released Monday. “Many acres of maturing crops, some mature and ready to harvest under water. In many areas stored hay completely submerged. The truth will not really be known until any harvest attempt is made. Good weather days are needed.”
Soybeans are the state’s biggest crop, and many farmers will lose their entire crop for the year, said Ron Levy, the top soybean agronomist for Louisiana State University.
“There is significant damage to soybeans and other crops as well,” Levy said in an interview. “A lot of the fields were flooded and there are fields that will be flooded for another week. We still have water rising in some areas from floods in other areas.”
The flooding came at a particularly sensitive time for farmers, many of whom were just starting to see their soybean plants sprout in the pods, said Levy. Those crops, especially in the worst hit areas of the state, will not survive.
“The water is moving out slowly because there’s just so much of it,” Strain said. “And everything is inundated and we’re worried because our soybean fields are under water.”
But even those farmers who have already harvested – some plant early so they can grow sugarcane – didn’t escape the flood damage, Levy said.
“Rice and soybeans that were in the process of drying were destroyed,” he said. About 80 percent of Louisiana’s rice crop this year has already been harvested, but much of what remains is sustaining damage, according to the USA Rice Federation.
Dustin Harrell, an LSU rice specialist, estimated about $14.3 million in damages to Louisiana farmers, according to USA Rice.
As for livestock, it will take at least three weeks before an assessment can be made on losses, said Strain. But cattle are a major part of Louisiana’s agriculture sector and the commissioner said he already knows the floods have hurt ranchers.
“I know of a couple herds that have been lost,” Strain said. “They were swept into rivers and drowned. We’re trying to save as much of the livestock as possible. Those that are out of the water are being brought to shelters and holding facilities. Those that are in the water, we’re trying to get them to high ground. If we can get them to high ground, we can get some hay and feed in them.”
Meanwhile, Strain said he has been in contact with USDA officials like Deputy Secretary Michael Scuse and the department has promised assistance.
“Our hearts go out to the families and communities in Louisiana who have been devastated by flooding over the past several weeks,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. “USDA has offices in nearly every county or parish in the U.S., and we want to remind people that we have a variety of services that may be useful in challenging times like this one. Our employees are also members of the communities hit by flooding, and we want to help.”
And a lot of help will be needed.
“It’s bad, but right now we don’t know just how bad,” Levy said. “We can’t even get out to assess how bad the damage is.”
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