Two weeks on from the great flood and Louisiana's farmers are still making sense of the damage. So much remains unknown and yet more tragic personal and economic news is in the offing.
Percolating from smaller news outlets is the expectation that damage stats for south Louisiana’s farmers will worsen dramatically, with already catastrophic financial losses expected to nearly double. Soybean and rice farmers around Acadiana could suffer the brunt of that economic devastation.
"Our major crops are in peril," says Andrew Granger, the LSU Ag Center's agent for Vermilion Parish. With as much as 30 percent of Vermilion soybean and rice fields unharvested and in flooded fields, crop yield will be decimated and revenues could drop by a third.
"Anything that touches the water was lost," Granger adds.
He says the southern Acadiana parish has been forced to rely heavily on annual agriculture revenues of roughly $300 million, since oil prices have bottomed. Flood damage will squeeze the struggling parish harder.
State agriculture officials have tallied preliminary statewide losses for sugarcane, soybean, rice and other cash crops at more than $110 million. They warn that skeleton yields and damaged goods could drive those losses to $200. Results like what's been reported in Vermilion are only just now rolling in.
“We’re still in that phase of seeing how high the damage could actually go,” LSU Agricultural Economist Kurt Guidry tells The IND. “The longer the producers are unable to get back in the fields, the higher probability we’ll have some additional yield loss and more quality issues.”
Parish by parish estimates are currently in process, says Guidry. Given that much of the roughly 2 million combined acres of Louisiana’s rice and soybean fields are planted in Acadia, Lafayette, St. Landry and Vermilion parishes, it’s safe to say Acadiana losses will count for a debilitating chunk of that damage.
Hot air and high humidity from persistent rain has sprouted corn, soybean and rice in the fields, effectively destroying existing crops that would otherwise be harvested in early fall. Granger describes water-logged Vermilion Parish soybean plants sopping in standing flood water, with pods rotting and empty.
Soybean crops are expected to suffer $46 million in lost revenue, at current statewide estimates, with rice not far behind at $33 million in damage. Farmers across the state will lose out on cotton, corn sorghum grain and wheat as well, though not to the same degree.
Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain told Baton Rouge Business Report that rice prices could dip as much as 50 percent, soaring revenue losses to $50 million in upcoming reports.
Strain says the state is appealing to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for additional disaster relief for the state’s farmers. Help likely won’t come until agricultural analysts get a clearer picture of the devastation, which isn't expected until early September.
Cattlemen and other livestock farmers in Lafayette, Vermilion and St. Martin parishes are expected to report severe damage to fences and barns, on top of at least some loss of life among their herds.
Granger says that cattlemen in Pecan Island, Gueydan and Mermentau trucked thousands of cattle ahead of the flood, watching as the waters rose to the top of their levees. Pick-up trucks with twenty foot trailers moved some 5,000 cattle in painstaking loads to higher and dryer ground. Now, with flood waters receding, many are finding their pastures unusable. With a shortage of hay and no grass to feed some of the 35,000 cattle in Vermilion Parish, some cattlemen will need to buy hay or pay to keep their cattle at nearby farms. Still others will sell cattle off to avoid starving them.
Perhaps more unclear is how the mess will affect Louisiana’s aquaculture and fisheries, particularly crawfish production. Drowned crawfish farms in south and west Acadiana likely won’t know the impact until traps are pulled up later this year, according to Guidry.
Crawfish yields are historically difficult to predict even in years without historically disastrous flooding. While crop losses for rice or soybeans can be compared with expected yields, no such comparison readily exists for crawfishermen on a year to year basis.
Anthony Arcenaux, owner of Hawk's boiled crawfish in Robert's Cove, says that crawfish growers fret dry weather and not rain. More rains will keep farmers from repairing their levees, but he expects that added rainfall could be beneficial to crawfish, which are typically burrowed in the mud at this time of year.
Some fisheries experts have reported concern about excessive flushes of fresh water mixing with coastal gulf sea water and disrupting shrimp production. Again, so much is yet to be seen as heavy rains continue to fall routinely and inland flooding evacuates south along the bayous that feed shrimping and fishery centers like the Vermilion Bay and other waters.
Flood waters will continue to abate, which is good news for homeowners looking to dry out and resume some manner of antediluvian life. But a flood of murky agricultural reports indicate that Acadiana’s farmers are still very much in an ongoing and developing disaster.