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Serving: Central

Gustav pounds Mid-South crops

After the latest rains courtesy of Hurricane Gustav, extreme southeast Arkansas could float an ark.

“Up until late Wednesday afternoon, we’d gotten about 7 inches of rain out of Gustav,” says Carl Hayden, Chicot County Extension agent. “That’s a lot. Unfortunately, since then we’ve gotten another 6 inches. I’ve poured 13 inches of water out of the gauge at my house.”

Even before Gustav, the region was waterlogged.

“There were areas in this county that had gotten up to 18 inches of rain in two weeks. That means some fields have had at least 30 inches of rain since around mid-August.”

Because of all that water, in fields that were prone to flood, “we’d already lost some crops — mainly soybeans. Other fields were ready to harvest and we couldn’t get to them. Those deteriorated badly. In cotton, there was already some boll rot before Gustav. Who knows how bad that’ll be due to (the latest rains)?”

Louisiana has also been hard-hit. On Wednesday, David Lanclos traveled south from Alexandria, and checked field conditions along the way.

“The area south of Alexandria is a mess,” says the Syngenta agronomist, who works both Mississippi and Louisiana. “Any corn that hadn’t been harvested prior to Gustav is pretty much gone. It’s lodged to such a degree that combines won’t be able to do the job.

“Now, there may be a few cornfields that can be cut with a soybean header but running a conventional corn header through the fields I’ve seen will be impossible.”

As for soybeans, “a lot of the wheat-beans looked as though they fared better than expected. Most of the ones I saw were still in at least a foot of water.”

How well the beans do will “depend largely on how rapidly the water drains. The good news is it appears that’s happening — water is moving out and the forecast is calling for a few dry days.

“The reason we’re a bit worse off is because of the general lateness of the crop statewide. Louisiana had almost 8 to 10 inches of rain from Alexandria north. Prior to Gustav we were worried about rotting and sprouting.”

The state needs a week to 10 days of dry weather before machinery can get back to harvesting — “if there’s anything worth harvesting.”

From Lanclos’ observations, the sugarcane crop is the biggest loser in the latest hurricane. “I’ve seen plenty of cane completely on the ground. Some may come back, but a lot of it is going to be a wipeout.”

In Mississippi, in an attempt to beat the hurricane, “we harvested nearly 20 percent of the corn crop in the four or five days before it hit,” says Erick Larson, Mississippi Extension corn specialist. “I hope the crop holds up and we can avoid lodging. That’s a real concern.”

Rains have been unrelenting. “I spoke with a grower around Leland, Miss., and they got over 11 inches of rain (from Gustav). Flooding is a major issue — schools and roads are closed around there. I know soybeans could be badly hurt.”

Agriculture statisticians say Mississippi has harvested 35 percent of the corn crop. “That may be a bit high. I was in the Delta and around the state this week. The south Delta is probably 50 percent harvested. Further north, it isn’t nearly that far along.

“We are seeing some sprouting in ears. Yesterday, I spoke with some folks in the grain elevator industry and they weren’t too worried about that, though. The primary problems appear to be lower test weights and bleaching of kernels.”

All the Mid-South news isn’t bad, though. “We only got 1.5 inches of rain around here. How lucky is that?” says Chuck Farr, a consultant based in Crawfordsville, Ark. “It looks like northeast Arkansas is about the only bright spot in the state.

“I’ve spoken with a bunch of my consulting buddies and they say from Marianna south it’s very ugly. The same is true from Brinkley west.

“Northeast Arkansas dodged it. I’d estimate 90 percent of the rice here is still standing and there’s not much wind. We’re fortunate.

We’re still about 10 days behind normal — we’ll probably start defoliating cotton next week.”

The situation isn’t nearly as rosy in Hayden’s neighborhood. Before Gustav, “we were around 60 percent done with corn. Unbelievably, as of yesterday afternoon, most of the corn that hadn’t been harvested was still standing. So far, it doesn’t appear there’s a lot of lodging in the corn.

“The biggest problem in the corn could be morning-glories. This delay will allow them to grow and that could make harvest a nightmare.”

And there’s a lot of rice that’s “flat on the ground.”

“Overall, the biggest concern is with the soybeans. They will be damaged, no doubt. The fields where water stood, the beans will deteriorate and rot quickly. And we had a heck of a bean crop — actually, all the crops looked really good — before these rains set in.”

Reached at a Red Cross evacuation shelter set up on the Dean Lee Research Station campus in Alexandria, La., Sandy Stewart is just thankful for a break in the clouds.

“This morning, I’ve seen blue sky for the first time in a long time,” says the LSU AgCenter cotton specialist. “Believe me, that was a welcome sight.

“We’ve had 3,000 people sheltering here. Extension folks pitched in to help them, so I haven’t had a chance to check much cotton since the storm.

“I do know there is significant wind damage in the Red River Valley. Northeast Louisiana didn’t get the brunt of the hurricane winds — but it did get a lot of rain. I’ll have a better handle on it in the next couple of days.”


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