Harvey Soaks Southern Crops

Tropical Depression Harvey Drenches Delta Farmers with Harvest Underway

Emily Unglesbee
By  Emily Unglesbee , DTN Staff Reporter
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As the storm weakened to a tropical depression, Harvey continued to drop heavy rainfall amounts in the Delta region of the South this week. (DTN graphic)

ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) -- Southern farmers are dealing with a late-season deluge, as Tropical Depression Harvey moved up through the Delta region this week, soaking corn, soybean, cotton, sorghum and rice fields along the way.

Louisiana farmers took the brunt of the rain and crop damage, with rain totals pushing past 20 inches in the southwest corner of the state, farmers and crop experts told DTN. Farther north, growers in eastern Arkansas and western Mississippi took in anywhere from 2 to 10 inches, and are faring better.

"As far as a hurricane goes, we were very fortunate," said Jeremy Jack, a west-central Mississippi grower who has farmed through nine hurricanes. "One day of rain, around 2 inches, and an hour stretch of wind."

Arkansas grower Perry Galloway saw rainfall amounts ranging from 3 to 9 inches where he farms in the east-central part of the state. But he remains optimistic that fields will dry out by early next week, thanks to a forecast of cool, sunny days trailing in Harvey's wake.

Farther south, Louisiana growers are in worse shape.

"A lot of our soils were -- if not saturated -- pretty close to capacity going into the storm," said Louisiana State University soybean specialist Todd Spivey. "We do have some flooding of fields, but we don't have a number yet as to how many acres."

CROP DAMAGE EXPECTED IN LOUISIANA

In northeastern and central Louisiana, where the state's 1.3 million soybean acres are concentrated, Harvey dumped between 10 to 12 inches of rain, Spivey said.

Younger soybean fields will be at the highest risk for yield loss, particularly if floodwaters linger. About 50% to 60% of the state's beans are past the R6 stage, and will likely only face quality problems from the rainfall, Spivey said.

"There are some issues that we are expecting, especially with the earlier crop, such as seeds sprouting in the pods, as well as some seed rot," he said. "With warm conditions, we'll also probably see increased incidence of pod and stem blight and bacterial blight."

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The storm will also likely bring a fresh influx of soybean rust spores, which has laid low in the state so far this year, he added.

Harvey swept through cotton fields just before defoliation, which was a small blessing, added LSU cotton and corn specialist Dan Fromme.

"We still have leaves on the plant, so we're lucky in that way," he said. "With that said, it is going to increase boll rot and wet ground."

The storm also set back the state's corn and rice harvest, which were 87% and 81% complete as of Monday, according to USDA's latest Crop Progress reports.

Both crops will be vulnerable to molding and sprouting, as they sit in flooded fields, noted LSU entomologist Jeff Davis. Stalk deterioration is also a concern for the corn crop, which had seen plenty of moisture before Harvey arrived.

ARKANSAS AND MISSISSIPPI HOPE TO DRY OUT QUICKLY

The sun was shining and the wind was blowing as Galloway drove by his drenched corn, soybeans and rice fields in the east-central county of Woodruff on Friday morning.

"I haven't seen any floods yet, and we didn't get much wind," he said. The last part was key, because it left his corn and rice fields standing. "My hope is that in two days, we'll be drained off and ultimately it won't affect any quality," Galloway said.

In some ways, the unseasonably cool and wet August has been a blessing, Galloway noted. He was able to cut his usual corn irrigation passes from over a dozen to just three. Next week, he's hoping to finish harvesting a bumper corn crop and above-average rice crop, and soybeans look good, too.

"I wish we hadn't gotten this rain, but so far I haven't seen anything that won't cure itself in 48 hours," he concluded.

Down in west-central Mississippi, Jack echoed that sentiment. His farm near Belzoni, Mississippi, received only 2 inches of rain, but they had prepared for more.

"With the hurricane starting to come, we knew the corn would not handle any wind whatsoever," he said. "Between irrigation and a lot of rain, the stalks had really deteriorated. So we pushed it harder than we normally do to make sure we got the corn out ahead of time."

Soybean growers in the Delta region should be on alert for lodging and -- in long-flooded fields -- pod damage, said University of Arkansas Extension soybean agronomist Jeremy Ross.

"Areas close to rivers will have some flooding events," he said. "But I feel really confident if the water can get off within 24 to 48 hours, beans will be OK. Anything after 48 hours, the more likely they will have some kind of pod damage or damage to the seed."

University of Arkansas Extension cotton agronomist Bill Robertson said he is still in the process of evaluating the cotton crop. Most of the state's cotton acres are in the eastern part of the state, particularly the northeast corner, which saw the most rain from Harvey.

"It was a lot more rain than we wanted, and older cotton fields with bolls starting to open up will be worse off," he predicted. "Younger cotton will be fine -- we just need the sun to come back out and get the sugar factory running again in the plant."

Like many inhabitants of the Delta region, Robertson ultimately expressed relief for his state.

"When you look at what happened in Texas -- bales blown apart, no cotton left in the fields that weren't harvested -- we're pretty fortunate," he concluded.

Emily Unglesbee can be reached at Emily.unglesbee@dtn.com

Follow Emily Unglesbee on Twitter @Emily_Unglesbee

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Emily Unglesbee