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Louisiana and Arkansas crops hit by Hurricane Laura

Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter laura-birds-olivia-mcclure-lsu-agcenterojm6113.jpg
Birds search for a meal in a flooded field in southwest Louisiana following Hurricane Laura.
After Hurricane Laura, farmers assess what needs to be repaired and what can be harvested.

Hurricane Laura hit land Wednesday, Aug. 26. While the hurricane wasn't as damaging as first feared, the storm carved a destructive path over the Louisiana-Texas border and up to Arkansas.

The hurricane left many without power or running water.

A mixed bag

George LaCour, a south Louisiana farmer along the Mississippi River, said he felt blessed the storm didn’t produce as much damage as they feared.

"The cotton is laid over a bit," LaCour said. "Our cane is laid over, too. However, I think we can pick the cotton that didn't blow on the ground. We had about four and a half inches of rain with 40 mile-per-hour winds. West of us, the winds were higher with more rain. It could have been devastating for us, but we escaped the worst of it."

LaCour said the area where he lives in Pointe Coupee Parish experienced power outages, trees down, and some damage to crops such as broken limbs on corn.

"My cousin, in Colfax, which is north of Alexandria, said his cornfields look devastated. He got 60 miles-an-hour wind," he said. "They took a much bigger hit than we did despite being further north than us."

Wind not only damaged crops but also a lot of pine trees in the hills of north Louisiana.

"A friend of mine from Jennings lost his barn, and it fell on his equipment," LaCour said. "My friend, a rice farmer from Crowley, said he had about 40 to 45 mile-per-hour winds and pouring rain. He said from Crowley going west every mile, it got a little worse going down US 90. One guy from around Lacassine lost his house. I've also heard of people who lost the roofs on their grain bins, which had rice in them.

"For us, the lingering rain since the hurricane has been harder on the cotton crop than the actual weather from the hurricane."

Bobby Skeen, executive vice president of the Louisiana Cotton and Grain Association, said Ouachita Parish, where he lives is the second-most affected parish in the state of Louisiana despite being so far north. According to one news report, Ouachita Parish experienced more than 60,000 power outages.

"It's a mixed bag across the state," Skeen said. "In the heart of the Delta on the far east side of Louisiana, they had some rain and wind. It was enough wind to twist the soybeans and cotton around a fair amount as well as the corn that had not been harvested. A fair amount of corn was affected. Some farmers are still somewhat optimistic that they can still harvest their corn, but it's going to make an already slow process much slower."

Louisiana: Some crops harvestable

Depending on the area, some crops are still harvestable, but the harvest will certainly be slow or delayed due to damage and/or wet weather.

"There is some rice that is down, especially more so on the western side of the state where the eye of the hurricane came up through the state," Skeen said. "It's a much worse story over there.

"On the northwestern corner of the state, which has a lot of row crop agriculture there in and around Shreveport, they fared a little better than we did in the middle part of the state. They have some corn laid over, but they believe they'll be able to get it harvested. It's just going to take them a little longer to do so."

The wind from the hurricane was still a Category One even when hurricane Laura was midway up the state.

"The winds we got here in Monroe, La., where I've lived my whole life, were some of the worst winds I've ever seen here," he said. "The rain wasn't too bad. It's the wind that has hurt the crops here more than the rain. For the most part, everybody that we've talked to has said it could have been worse. It could have been much worse."

Arkansas: Some wind damage

"Overall, considering the forecast for high winds and heavy rains in Arkansas from Laura, we fared better than anticipated, although we got more of both than we wanted," said Jason Kelley, Extension wheat and feed grains agronomist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. "Yes, we have some corn blown down, especially in the southern half of the state and scattered areas in central and northeast Arkansas."

Wind damage reports have been variable, ranging from no apparent damage to substantial damage, often in adjacent fields.

"There are some cornfields that are nearly 100% down," he said. "Damage is more common in the south half of the state and less as we move north. Factors such as planting date, hybrid, plant population, and row direction all seem to be impacting the amount of lodging.

"The storm came at an absolute worst time as we had only harvested approximately 5% of the crop, which is behind the five-year harvest pace. Harvest looks to be delayed this week, which is not good news."

Leaning and down corn needs to be harvested as quickly as possible to reduce further losses.

"Unfortunately, the forecast is calling for more rain this week right after the storm, so the longer the delay in harvesting, the greater potential for more lodging and greater potential for loss," Kelley said. "Harvesting down corn is a slow and challenging process that always seems to leave more corn in the field than you might think."

Jeremy Ross, Extension soybean agronomist for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, shares the same concerns about a delayed harvest leading to further losses.

"Corn and rice harvest were under way," Ross said. "Corn was just getting started, and rice harvest season started about 10 days ago. Every day we delay harvesting those commodities, there will be more quality issues. We now need some dry weather to get the combines in the fields.

"The southern part of the state has more damage from Laura, but overall, I think we fared fairly well. There are isolated areas with cornfields down or some rice fields that lodged, but from what I saw and heard from other agronomists and county agents, I think everybody was surprised at what little damage we had compared to what could have been."

The Jonesboro area had hardly any wind damage.

"The rice and soybeans were still standing and no lodging issues," he said. "I only saw one area where corn was down in between Wynne and Forrest City. Several big trees were down, and a church was damaged, but a mile down the road, you couldn't tell there had been any damage. It seems an isolated storm hit that field, but overall, I think Arkansas fared well.

"Looking at soybeans, mainly the taller soybeans took the brunt of the damage. A lot of the taller soybeans, about chest-high, were leaning. At this point, there may be some issues making sure you get all that material into the header of the combine if the plants are laying close to the ground, but I didn't see much on the soybean side that caused me much concern."

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