Louisiana Flood Disaster

Ag Tries to Assess Damage as Waters Remain High

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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The Federal Emergency Management Agency lists 20 parishes (counties) in Louisiana have received federal disaster declarations due to historic flooding. (Photo courtesy of USDA)

OMAHA (DTN) -- As rains have continued throughout southern Louisiana, it is difficult for farm leaders to get a handle on the full impact of historic flooding on crops and livestock, but it's clear agriculture in southern parts of the state has been hit hard.

Ronnie Anderson, president of the Louisiana Farm Bureau, said in a phone interview Thursday that his farm north of Baton Rouge had pastures and fields flooded, but his home "remained high and dry for now."

Anderson had 22 inches of rain at his farm over two days last weekend. He said some places recorded as much as 30 inches. Most of the flooding is in the southern half of the state from the east to the west.

"When you have that much rain over such a short period of time, I don't care where you are, the drainage can't handle it," he said.

Anderson noted it is difficult to get a handle on the extent of crop damage and potential livestock losses because the water hasn't receded. Instead, it has continued to rain throughout much of the week in parts of the state.

"We're going to have to sit down over the next week and assess where we are and what the greatest needs will be, but we're kind of in limbo right now," Anderson said.

DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson (no relation to Ronnie) said the forecast for much of Louisiana shows heavy rains have eased up, but there will still be light-to-moderate showers throughout the next week to 10 days. There's not a completely dry day indicated until Monday, Aug. 29.

Cattle have been caught in flooded areas, and there have been scattered reports of drownings. At least with the rains, the flood water was fresh water. "So it's not like (Hurricane) Katrina or Rita and they aren't drinking salt water, so that's a good thing," Ronnie Anderson said.

Farm Bureau has put out a call on its website to connect farmers who need hay with those who have hay they are willing to donate. Anderson said Farm Bureau activated a hay clearinghouse earlier in the spring when northern parts of the state were hit by floods. Now the situation has reversed. The Louisiana Farm Bureau Hay Clearinghouse form can be found at http://voiceoflouisianaagriculture.org/…

Ronnie Anderson said labor and materials for homes across the state are going to be a priority for most residents. In areas where the waters have gone down, the yards are filling up with damaged drywall, bedding, carpets and furniture. Estimates range from 30,000 to 40,000 homes flooded along the southern stretch of the state. The Federal Emergency Management Agency lists 20 parishes (counties) have received federal disaster declarations. A few parishes were holding emergency assistance meetings Friday afternoon to visit with farmers about where they can get information. In some counties, as high as 80% of the homes were damaged.

Roughly 20% of staffers working at the Louisiana Farm Bureau in Baton Rouge also saw their homes damaged. "It's a major undertaking for them just to get back into their homes," Anderson said.

Carey Martin, a spokesman for the Farm Bureau, is one of those staffers whose home flooded. Still, he's been putting out daily updates keeping farmers and others aware of latest flood news. Martin also spoke with pride about the aid from neighbors and others across the state as people used their private boats to go out and rescue stranded residents.

"We have a bunch of neighborly Cajuns who have been doing nothing but going around and helping each other," Martin said.

Extension offices across Louisiana also reported flooding affecting a soybean crop that USDA had pegged to produce 50 bushels an acre statewide. Louisiana was forecast to harvest roughly 1.2 million acres of soybeans. According to USDA's Risk Management Agency, more than 1 million acres carried at least some percentage of crop-insurance coverage.

As an Extension agent in Iberia Parish south of Lafayette and near the coast stated, "Sugar cane planting, soybean and rice harvest have all been stopped due to flooded fields. As of now, livestock losses appear to be minimal. Yield loss to rice and soybeans could be major. Many sugarcane fields have lodged cane, and planting will be delayed for several days if not weeks depending on how much more rain we receive."

Planting also was going on for sugar cane that was halted and cane fields already in production were falling or lodged.

"Cane's real resilient, though," Ronnie Anderson said. "It can blow down and try to stand back up," Anderson said. "It's a little harder to get the planting done because the ground is wet and the cane is not going to be as straight in a lot of places."

Dustin Harrell, a Louisiana rice Extension specialist, wrote in an update that the flooding hit areas where 75% of the rice crop is grown. Roughly 80% of the crop had been harvested. Harrell told the USA Rice Federation the rice crop may have suffered about $14.3 million in losses. That does not include the ratoon rice -- the second harvest off those same fields. The damage to ratoon crop is going to depend on just how much of the plant remains under the water line.

According to USDA, Louisiana had 465,000 acres harvested for rice this year, of which the Risk Management Agency shows about 341,800 acres were covered by insurance, or just under three-fourths of the crop acreage.

A big question is how and where harvested rice was being stored and how much of the harvested crop was affected. Ronnie Anderson said he had not heard reports of stored rice being damaged at this point. "Most of that is in storage where it should be in pretty good shape or already moved to the mills to be processed," he said.

The Louisiana Department of Agriculture has warned residents that crops exposed to flood waters are considered adulterated by the FDA and should not be consumed. The department also on Thursday opened a GoFundMe page for donations. The fund will be used mainly to help with pets and livestock in shelters. The GoFundMe page can be found at http://gofundme.com/…

"One of the many lessons learned during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 is that many people would not leave their family pets to get out of harm's way. Our job is to provide shelter and care for pets and livestock, when needed, so Louisiana residents can have comfort in knowing their pets are safe and being cared for," said Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain

The Farm Service Agency highlighted in a news release that the agency offers aid through various ways such as emergency loans and other programs, including the Non-Insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program, the Livestock Indemnity Program, Tree Assistance Program and the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program. The full news release can be found at http://www.fsa.usda.gov/…

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

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Chris Clayton