Crop damage from Hurricanes Gustav and Ike will be in the millions of dollars for all crops and livestock in the parish. Many of the parish growers were still recovering from Hurricane Rita that was most devastating to our sugarcane industry.
In St. Martin Parish, we had close to 31,000 acres of sugarcane and every acre was affected by the hurricane. This hurricane has created a number of problems for our growers. The most pressing problem at this time is trying to complete planting prior to harvest. Approximately 35 percent of the crop or 3,100 acres of cane have been planted, leaving us with 6,000 acres left to plant. Because of the hurricane, many growers will resort to billet plantings, which will require more seed cane for planting and will take away from net profits. In addition, many of the fields are weedy and will need an additional herbicide and cultivation to try and get fields in a fairly good condition before planting which will require more time, labor and fuel.
The second major problem facing growers is the extra expense required to harvest the 2008 crop. Many of the fields will have to be harvested with combines, which will increase harvesting costs. In addition, growers will make less sugar and less tonnage than expected, again affecting total net income. Unfortunately, the hurricane comes at a time when price of sugar is still at an all-time low.
The storm has created other problems, such as uprooting of stubble, tops breaking and leaves shredded, which makes it much more difficult for a ripener to be efficient. Hopefully, we will see a turn around with dry and cooler weather for all producers.
Our rice crop was probably the best crop every grown in the parish. Much of the 6,000 acres of rice was ready for harvest or will be ready in the next two to three weeks. The mature rice was hit the hardest and over 50 percent of that crop was lodged in the water. Much of that rice will suffer from weather damage, mold and sprouting. The biggest problem is that farmers are unable to drain fields due to high water levels in the canals and streams. Some rice may be so poor that it will not be worth harvesting due to heavy damage. Later maturing rice that managed to drain will have damages, but not as severe as the mature rice.
Crawfish could suffer losses of up to 50 percent due to poor quality water in ponds. Many of the female crawfish with young may not survive due to low oxygen levels. It could be a while before we know exactly what the damage is, but we expect it to be high.
Soybeans that were ready for harvest have suffered heavy losses. Group IV beans, while mature in late August and September, will have heavy damage due to mold and shattering. Of the 7,500 acres in the parish, only 20 percent was in early maturing beans. The later maturing beans seem to have weathered the storm much better, if there was no standing water. If water was present in the field for several days, some of the bottom pods on the plant could have suffered some damage.
Grain sorghum suffered little damage because most of the crop has been harvested.
Pecans will take a heavy loss on improved pecans and native trees. Crop surveys indicated that this was going to be a good year but now producers will lose over 50 percent of their crop and at the same time experiencing heavy losses of limbs and some trees. Because of this heavy damage, homeowners can expect a poor crop in 2009, because many of the trees will be trying to repair themselves.
It is difficult to give dollar losses for all our crops until we begin harvesting. Nevertheless, heavy losses will occur and farmers will again try to survive at a time when inputs such as fertilizer, fuel and equipment costs are at an all time high. This will be a major blow to all of our producers in the parish.
For more information, contact Alfred Guidry, county agent, St. Martin Parish, at 332-2181.