When Hurricane Katrina thrashed through Louisiana on Aug. 29, damage to cotton was measured by how close it was to the Mississippi River and how open it was, according to Louisiana Extension cotton specialist Sandy Stewart.
“Our eastern-most cotton-producing areas sustained some damage, 20 percent or so, from cotton being blown out on the ground. As you move west of Highway 65 in Tensas and Madison parishes, the damage drops off. They had some wind, but not much rain. We were fortunate.
“The cotton that fared the worst was 40 percent to 60 percent open and had not been defoliated. It had some heavy bolls at the top and was whipped around pretty good. Some defoliated cotton ready to harvest that seemed to fare better.”
Stewart said much of the unharvested northeast Louisiana rice crop “was blown down. Fortunately, most of the corn has been harvested and the soybean crop is looking okay. We are certainly are lot luckier than our neighbors to the east, that's for sure.”
Mississippi Extension cotton specialist Tom Barber estimated cotton crop losses in Mississippi due to Katrina at 15 percent to 20 percent, “even though there are fields with higher losses. Some producers who defoliated last week suffered at least 50 percent losses.”
Cotton on ground
Barber said cotton is on the ground, “even as far north as just south of Memphis. But definitely as you move south of Highway 82 in the Delta, the more open, early-planted cotton is the most damaged.”
Barber says 10 percent of the cotton crop was lost to wind blowing cotton out of burs, and another 10 percent to water penetrating cracked bolls. “Those plants are down and those bolls can't get any air. They're either going to hard lock or rot.”
Barber said a few cotton fields on the east side of the state flooded in the aftermath of the hurricane. “On one field, I saw the terminal of the cotton plant and that was it. But overall, the crop in the Hills was a little earlier and it wasn't quite as open. We have a lot of twisted up cotton on the ground. A lot of it is going to stand back up.”
The Mississippi soybean crop “came through in pretty good shape,” according to Extension soybean specialist Alan Blaine. “In our immediate area, soybean harvest is roughly 50 percent complete and corn harvest is 75 percent to 80 percent done.
“I haven't been into the Delta, but they didn't get the wind damage that we got on the east side of the state. It's a tad later and still has a lot of green in it and is more resilient than if it were ready to harvest.”
Blaine said sunshine following the storm “was a big plus. It gave us an opportunity to dry.”
Blaine says more significant losses to the soybean crop occurred south of Highway 82 and Interstate 20. “I haven't looked at any of that crop, but I know we have some crop damage and some bin damage.”
Blaine anticipates a difficult harvest for rice and corn producers in the state. “A lot of the corn that was ready is blown over, which will make it more difficult to harvest. But most is blown over in one direction, which will make it somewhat easier than if it were twisted around. A lot of the rice that was ready to cut was blown down. Rice that still had some green in the stalk doesn't look as bad.”
If the crop that's on the ground “stays wet and we have high temperatures, it's going to start rotting. We don't have a good handle on that yet. It's much more of a concern in rice and corn.
A difficult harvest will add costs to an already costly season, according to Blaine. “Some rice producers may have been cutting 50 acres of rice a day and since so much of it is down, they may cut only 10 acres. But it's going to take the same amount of diesel fuel to cut 10 acres as it does to cut 50 acres.”
Rising fuel prices are also a concern for producers, who are hurting from additional fuel required to irrigate this season. Regarding President Bush's plan to begin oil drilling in Alaska's Artic National Wildlife Refuge, Blaine said, “I hope the president tells the caribou to get out of the way, we're fixing to drill. But we're a little late starting in my opinion.”