It will take until at least early September for officials to gauge the exact extent of the damage caused by flooding to the agriculture industry, says Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain. But what was clear just a week after the floodwaters began receding is that—much like the unprecedented amount of rain that fell over south Louisiana—the damage will likely be historic.
“You’re basically looking at a Katrina-type event without the winds,” says Strain, noting that farmers in at least 28 of the state’s 64 parishes have been affected by flooding.
The LSU AgCenter has pegged the initial agriculture loss estimate at $110 million, but it says that figure likely will grow in the coming weeks, at which point it will release an updated estimate. In the week after floodwaters began to recede, LSU AgCenter officials—as well as Strain and his team—had only just begun assessing the damage and meeting with area farmers.
Rice, corn, soybeans, cotton and sugarcane were in the ground when the flooding occurred, as well as summer fruits, sweet potatoes and grain sorghum. Adding insult to injury, many crops—including corn, soybeans and sorghum—had been on track for very promising yields this year.
“Rice was not harvested yet, and we’re expecting a 20 to 40 percent loss. The initial estimate is that losses could jump up to as high as $50 million,” Strain says. “Rice and soybeans are probably going to be the biggest issue, and it also looks like we’ll have significant losses for cattle and corn. Hopefully sugarcane is going to be OK, but the bottom line is it’s going to be at least three weeks before we really know.”
LSU AgCenter Economist Kurt Guidry says many factors—including crop yield, quality reductions, increased production costs, infrastructure damage and loss of stored commodities—remain unclear. For now, he says the soybean yield will take at least a $46 million hit, while rice yield reductions will cost about $33 million, corn losses will be $11 million and about $3 million worth of sugarcane will have to be replanted. It’s unclear how many livestock were killed by the flood, but Guidry estimates reduced pasture resources will cost producers nearly $2 million.
As for relief for farmers, Strain says he’s encouraging them to make claims with their insurers as soon as possible.
“They’re going to be busy,” he says.
Strain’s office will also be asking for a federal agriculture disaster declaration, which would trigger some financial relief from The Farm Bill. Officials with the U.S Department of Agriculture will be visiting south Louisiana to assess the damage and tally the losses.
In the meantime, agriculture officials and farmers across flood-affected areas will be closely watching weather patterns in the coming weeks, as any additional rainfall may cause further losses in yield and grain quality.
“Weather conditions over the next several weeks will be highly influential on the exact nature of the impacts for several commodities,” Guidry says. “Better conditions, mostly in terms of dry conditions, could help many of these crops rebound and certainly would allow for timelier harvest, and limit production and quality issues.”
Strain is also reminding all residents not to consume any agricultural products that were exposed to even a drop of floodwater.
“Any part of an edible crop that was touched by floodwater at all must be discarded,” he says. “It is not safe to eat.”