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Delta crops suffer from Katrina

STONEVILLE, Miss. — “Even though we did not receive the brunt of Katrina’s wrath, all Mississippi Delta crops will have some yield loss due to the storm,” said Joe Street, head of the Delta Research and Extension Center (DREC).

Cotton and rice seemed to be the hardest hit, according to a survey conducted by Street and Mississippi State University Extension personnel.

“Preliminary assessments estimate that between 20 to 25 percent of the Delta cotton crop yield potential was lost,” said Steve Nichols, an assistant agronomist at the DREC.

“Wind blew lint onto the ground and several reports came in of cotton being blown down and tangled,” he said.

Damage to area cotton ranged from lower than a 10 percent potential yield loss in the north Delta to 20 percent to 30 percent and in a few cases, upwards of a 50 percent potential yield loss for cotton in the hardest hit portions of the south Delta, according to Nichols.

However, Nichols said there is still a chance for a decent overall Delta crop if no more adverse weather comes into the area until harvest is completed.

As for rice, yields are expected to be reduced by about 15 percent in the Delta due to lodging, said Nathan Buehring, an assistant Extension professor at the DREC.

About 50 percent of Delta rice fields lay completely flat, according to Buehring, but they are still harvestable.

“If weather cooperates, most rice will be harvested without further damage,” he said. “Downed rice is very susceptible to damage with additional rain.”

With corn, growers had over half of the Delta crop harvested prior to Katrina and although they are having luck gathering fallen corn, harvesting costs are increased, according to Erick Larson, an associate/Extension professor in Starkville.

“If dry weather continues, the estimated yield loss will only be about 10 percent in the Delta,” Larson said. “However, it will take four to five times longer and more fuel to harvest the crop.

“The majority of it has lodged and harvest will be slow and significantly more expensive,” Larson explained. “Harvest speeds could be reduced to below 1 mile per hour.”

Soybeans in the area also received little harm from the storm, according to the DREC survey.

“The remaining Delta soybeans have been estimated to have lost close to 10 percent of their yield,” said Dan Poston, assistant Extension/research professor at the DREC. “The beans were affected minimally.

“The primary concern now is that if additional rain and wind come later in the season, these beans are more susceptible for disease and additional yield losses,” he said.

Delta farmers can contact DREC personnel for information on dealing with the effects of Katrina.

A preliminary estimate of total economic loss for Mississippi in row crop production because of Hurricane Katrina is between $115 million and $170 million, according to John Anderson, associate Extension professor of agricultural economics in Starkville, Miss.

Approximately 75 to 80 percent of Mississippi’s row crop production occurs in the Delta.

The DREC is a component of Mississippi State University ‘s Division of Agriculture, Forestry, and Veterinary Medicine and was established in 1904. The organization works to solve crop and aquaculture production problems as well as to transfer information and technology to area producers.

Robert H. Wells writes for Delta Research and Extension Center.

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