Excessive rain across Louisiana is compounding existing problems with the state’s 2015 wheat crop and leading to what LSU Agricultural Center experts call a disastrous season.
Heavy rains also are causing problems for some soybean and corn farmers, especially in the north part of the state where a storm system brought as much as 10 inches of rain in some areas in the past week. Also being affected are cotton, pastures and cattle.
Less affected by rain are sugar cane and rice, AgCenter experts said.
WHEAT: Wheat is normally harvested from mid-May to the first week of June in south Louisiana and from the end of May to mid- to late-June in north Louisiana, said Steve Harrison, LSU AgCenter wheat breeder. But rain is keeping farmers out of muddy fields and causing the quality of the crop to deteriorate and also contributing to what is commonly called scab disease.
Some of the wheat being harvested has a low weight, reducing its value.
“A normal test weight is 60 pounds per bushel,” said Josh Lofton, LSU AgCenter extension wheat specialist. “But down south we’re seeing wheat in the high 40s and low 50s.”
Grain elevators are either rejecting the low-quality wheat or significantly docking the price, he said.
Some of the wheat will be left in the field because it’s not worth harvesting.
“They’ll plow it under and plant soybeans,” Harrison said, adding that some farmers will let the damaged fields go fallow for a year.
Harrison expects yield losses of 30 percent to 40 percent for the 2015 wheat crop. Yield losses could translate into about a $13 million economic loss, based on the 130,000 acres planted to wheat, LSU AgCenter economist Kurt Guidry estimated.
Lofton said the wheat season started with poor planting conditions through late fall, followed by freezes in March when the wheat was growing rapidly. The low temperatures didn’t kill the crop but caused damage that weakened the stems and resulted in the crop collapsing when heads formed as heavy storms hit. These conditions can cause wheat to fall over, and harvesters can’t pick up the crop as easily. Harvesting becomes less efficient and more costly.
In addition, the continual wet conditions are favorable for development of a disease on wheat commonly known as scab, which can lead to low yields, low test weight, dockage and even rejection at the elevator.
“This is the worst year by far for scab,” said Boyd Padgett, LSU AgCenter plant pathologist and director of the Central Region, who’s been studying diseases in wheat for more than 20 years.
SOYBEANS: Ron Levy, LSU AgCenter soybean specialist, said some fields of young soybeans have been too wet. “We may have some losses and have to replant.”
Levy said some farmers have been waiting to plant, but the excess moisture makes that difficult.
Delayed planting will probably mean yields will be affected, he said. A late-planted soybean crop faces more stress from intense summer heat and more disease and insect pressure.
In southwest Louisiana, as much as a third of the soybean crop may have to be replanted, said Barrett Courville, LSU AgCenter county agent in Acadia and Jefferson Davis parishes.
The wet ground also is delaying farmers from getting into fields to spray herbicides, Courville said. But some areas haven’t received much rain, and the fields are ready to be planted.
CORN: Dan Fromme, LSU AgCenter corn specialist, said corn benefits from the rain as long as the fields are not flooded. “We’re in the rapid growth stage right now.”
Some fields hit by high winds had corn tip over, he said. Corn will suffer from a lack of oxygen in fields with waterlogged soil. Corn farmers had to deal with excess moisture during planting in March and April.
COTTON: Cotton in Louisiana is 80-90 percent planted, but flooding for that commodity is not good for the crop.
Donna Lee, LSU AgCenter county agent in East Carroll Parish, and Keith Collins, county agent in Richland Parish, said water from recent heavy rains appear to have drained, but low-lying areas have standing water.
“Now we need sunny weather,” Lee said.
She said the cotton, corn, soybeans and milo she has seen in northeast Louisiana look good so far. But cool weather that came on May 21 could slow plant growth.
“The most susceptible crops were those that are small,” said Collins.
CANE: Sugar cane is not as affected by heavy rains now, said Kenneth Gravois, LSU AgCenter sugarcane specialist. “At this stage, cane is pretty resilient.”
He said sugar cane farmers have made herbicide and fertilizer applications. “It would be better if it were a bit drier, but going into the summer with good moisture is good. Overall prospects for the crop continue to look good,” Gravois said.
RICE: Even though rice thrives in a wet environment, the frequent rainfall has caused problems for rice farmers.
“In a lot of places, farmers are struggling to get done what’s needed in the fields,” said Dustin Harrell, LSU AgCenter rice specialist.
He said landing strips for airplanes have been too wet to use for midseason nitrogen fertilizer applications. Flying services are using hard-surfaced runways, which are often several miles from a field, and the extra distance is resulting in higher fees, he said.
He said young rice is struggling, and an early outbreak of leaf blast disease has been found because of frequent rains.