Last Modified: Wednesday, July 18, 2012 11:07 AM
Wet weather in Southwest Louisiana has made it harder for rice farmers to harvest their crops and has soybean farmers waiting to see what all the rain could mean for them.
Since last week, farmers have kept an eye on the sky as the rains delayed a harvest that should have been well under way.
“We were harvesting a week ago, then we had a week of rain, so we haven’t been able to cut at all,” said rice farmer Phil Watkins of Welsh.
About 400 acres of the family’s nearly 2,500 acres of rice near Thornwell have been harvested. “We’ve only been able to cut about 100 acres a day,” Watkins said.
Sunshine on Monday had Watkins, his sons and family friends out in full force trying to harvest the rice despite the wet, muddy conditions.
“We’re fortunate we didn’t have a lot of wind like with a hurricane, so it’s still standing, but the wet conditions are slowing down the progress,” he said. “We are about a week behind.”
The recent rains have damaged much of the rice, causing kernels to crack — affecting yield and quality — and have made it harder to haul the rice. Farmers must use smaller carts to haul the rice to 18-wheelers waiting on dryer land. Usually the rice is loaded right onto the trucks in the fields, Watkins said.
“It (rain) hasn’t been a good thing because it is coming at a bad time,” farmer Donald Berken of Welsh said. “There are a lot of rice crops ready to be harvested and farmers waiting to get in the fields. We need some sunshine.”
Berken farms nearly 900 acres of rice and soybeans in Jefferson Davis Parish. “The most immediate problem is for rice because we need to be harvesting the fields,” he said.
Soybeans will be harvested later in the fall.
Many of the fields are too wet to get heavy machinery in to harvest the crops, Berken said.
The delay in harvesting could mean lower rice yields at milling because of reduced sunlight and onset of blast rice disease. The wet soil could also mean rutted fields, which would reduce yields on second rice crops.
LSU AgCenter rice specialist Johnny Saichuk said rainfall for the area varied last week from more than 8 inches in Cameron Parish to almost 7 inches in Allen Parish. Rainfall totals in Calcasieu Parish varied from 8-12 inches.
Some areas received less rainfall, he said.
“It rained just about every day last week,” Saichuk said. “We are hoping for a more normal thunderstorm system so that we can get the rice out of the fields this week and next. It needs to be dry to do that.”
State soybean specialist Ronald Levy said the rain should have a positive effect on most soybean crops, which are waiting for an early to mid-fall harvest.
“They were getting dry in a lot of areas, so those who didn’t receive the bulk of it, like Lake Charles, will benefit,” Levy said. “But if we continue to see rainfall, it could be detrimental.”
Calcasieu Parish county agent Jimmy Meaux said water standing in fields could hurt the reproduction of some soybean plants. “They don’t like as much rain as rice,” he said.
Areas that received unusually heavy rains will likely see losses in the lower ends of the fields where water is slower to drain. Those areas with heavy rainfall totals will also likely see cost increases as they cope with and try to prevent disease in soybean fields, Levy said.
Soybean farmers will likely know the effects of the rain in the next few weeks, he said. Some farmers are still planting soybeans, Levy said.