River region’s agri-business slammed by continued rain

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 23, 2004

By VICKIE JAMBON Staff Reporter

RIVER PARISH REGION – County agents for the River Parish Region said this year’s heavy rainfall brought devastation to crops and could mean financial disaster for cattlemen. St. Charles Parish was – by far – hit the hardest.

“St. Charles Parish was significantly impacted from continual, serious rainfall. We have experienced an 85 percent loss in vegetative crops and a possible 18 to 20 percent loss in sugar cane tonnage. Our cattlemen are concerned about winter supplements, due to the loss of hay. Cost decides if cattle producers can remain in business,” said County Agent Rene Schmit.

Schmit is extremely concerned for the farmers and cattlemen in his parish. He said, “This is one of the most significant losses we’ve had for a spring crop in the last three years.”

According to Schmit, farmers lost 85 percent of their tomato and melon crops, 65 percent of their cucumbers and 40 percent of their harvests in squash and sweet corn. Bell pepper yields decreased by 35 percent.

St. James Parish crops also suffered greatly.

“Vegetables were practically wiped out and we have seen rains dramatically effect our sugar cane through a dramatic reduction on yield and sugar,” said County Agent Jimmy Garret.

The agent said fields were too wet for farmers to gather their vegetables. Therefore, roadside vegetable sales were cut in half.

Excessive water from heavy rainfall caused slower growth in crops.

St. Charles Parish cane growers loss 18 percent of their sugar cane tonnage last year and will possibly lose the same again this year.

St. James Parish is expected to lose 33 to 34 tons of cane.

Less sugar will be produced this year and its level of sweetness may not be as high as farmers would like it to be.

Schmit said cane rotted because of heavy land. When soil has a heavy clay content, drainage is poor. Water can’t filtrate through the soil fast enough.

Garrett said a lack of nitrogen content was also responsible for cane deterioration. Necessary nitrogen content is lost in rainwater run-off.

The agent added that parish fields are dirty with weeds.

Water keeps farmers from weeding. Valuable nutrients meant for the crop goes to the feeding of weeds.

According to Garrett and Schmit, mid-August planting efforts are being held back because of excess water in the fields.

While St. John Parish fared better than its neighboring parishes, the area experienced serious damage to its vegetables.

County Agent Taharga Hart said, “In a short time, we got a whole lot of rain. We got too much rain all at once.”

The parish lost 85 to 90 percent of its tomato, watermelon and cantaloupe. The crops suffered immeasurably from fungus and disease because most farmers did not use fungicides.

Hart said they hope a late harvest of the same crops will bring a 50-60 percent yield.

While soybean growers had to replant several acres, Hart said he believes his parish will see soybean and cane crops come in on time.

This year was too wet for St. Charles and St. James Parishes to cut hay.

“We have had no crop production for spring because of rain. It is past time to make hay. This will produce a cost to cattlemen, said Schmit.

County agents agree that farmers should have cut hay twice by now. As of yet, no hay has been cut.

Cattlemen depend heavily on hay for winter feedings. When ranchers can not harvest their own hay, they are forced to buy hay and grain to feed their livestock during the winter months.

“The barn should be half full. There is no hay in the barn. We are hurting. We are being heavily impacted right now,” said Schmit.

Agents say ranchers are hoping for a fall crop. In order for that to happen, the fields must dry up to allow them to cut the hay. They are hoping to get two cuttings of the precious grass to feed their animals this winter.

“Agriculture is an important industry for the River Parish Region. When common homeowners are impacted by heavy rains and flooding, agricultural producers are impacted as well,” said Schmit.