BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Tropical Storm Isaac could wreck what was looking like an excellent year for Louisiana agriculture, LSU AgCenter experts say. Cotton, soybeans, and corn all are likely to suffer from the storm expected to make landfall Tuesday as a hurricane packing torrential rains and punishing winds.
Most cotton is two to four weeks from picking — the same stage it had reached in 2008 when Hurricane Gustav slammed through the state and ruined that year's crop, said cotton and feed grain specialist John Kruse.
"This storm could really tear up our cotton crop," he said.
And with about two-thirds of a record Louisiana corn crop still in the field because of the low Mississippi River, farmers were scrambling to get it into barns ahead of the storm, he said.
Barges have been carrying light loads because drought in the Midwest has starved the Mississippi River of rainwater. That slowed shipping and the harvest, even though prices are high — about $8 a bushel — because of drought-related shortages.
"Everyone was bringing in more corn than normal, and there was just nowhere to put it," Kruse said. "So things slowed down dramatically."
If the river were at normal levels, all 560,000 acres of corn would already be harvested, Kruse said. But with the storm coming, says Kruse, "Everyone that has somewhere to put corn is out cutting it."
Ronnie Levy, LSU AgCenter soybean specialist, said growers are harvesting as fast as they can, but the vast majority of Louisiana's soybeans aren't ripe enough to harvest. If they're lucky, farmers may have 30 to 35 percent of the crop harvested by Tuesday's end, he said.
Louisiana has approximately 1.2 million acres of soybeans planted this year, and prices have been at or near record levels for this commodity.
Sugarcane growers also were worried, said sugarcane specialist Kenneth Gravois. He said growers got an early start on planting, but recent wet weather slowed them down — a problem expected to be made even worse when the storm dumps more rain on saturated fields.
"I expect to see some cane laid down by winds," Gravois said. "We'll give it a week or so after to allow itself to straighten back up before we will know the full extent of any damage."
He said the storm will also delay the application of ripeners that cause the sugarcane to stop growing and focus energy on making sugar.