Farming successfully in Louisiana was, is, and will always be a challenge.
The farmer must not only be a great farmer to survive, he must also be an expert financial manager, a pesticide application genius, a prudent environmentalist, a curious scientist, a savvy economist and a wise meteorologist. But above all, he or she must be an eternal optimist.
Last month torrential rain soaked much of north Louisiana and put a lot of the corn crop and cattle pastureland underwater. The call was sent out to Louisiana for hay to feed cattle because grazing grass was killed by the floodwaters. The Louisiana Farm Bureau Federations set up a "hay clearinghouse” to gather hay donations and trucking donations. More than 5,000 hay bales have already been pledged to the program.
The corn crop also suffered a setback as well. More than 40,000 corn acres had been planted when the mid-March rain came. Those 40,000 acres will have to be replanted. Farming forecasters who had predicted a Louisiana corn crop of 500,000 acres have modified their predictions and believe the 2016 crop will be somewhere between 400,000 and 450,000 acres. Fortunately, it appears the corn farmers will be resupplied with the seed varieties they want. The optimum planting window is still favorable and if dry weather prevails, a successful corn crop is still possible. It all depends on how well input costs can be controlled.
Louisiana sugarcane growers have had their share of weather adversity as well. In 2015, heavy rainfall hit the cane belt in mid-October, traditionally the driest month of the year. Sugar recovery levels during the first few weeks of harvest were on a record-setting track but the rain turned the fields into a muddy soup. The poor harvesting conditions cut into the yield and the promising start ended up as an average year for cane producers.
Luckily for south Louisiana farmers, the nature of the cane plant works in their favor. Cane producers do not have to replant their entire crop every year because cane is a grass. Two, three and even four successful rattoon crops can be harvested from a single planting. Depending on the severity, the sugarcane plant can often survive hurricane winds and the rainfall associated with storms.
The point is, sugarcane is a crop well suited for Louisiana’s climate. No doubt farmers in south Louisiana would like to have a larger menu of crops to plant. However, the old reliable sugarcane plant has been the crop of choice for 221 years in Rapides and Avoyelles parishes, in the "Saint” parishes along the Mississippi River and the Bayou Lafourche/Bayou Teche ridges.
Farmers who want to be successful know what crops are best suited for their environment. In north Louisiana, corn is often the best option. In south Louisiana, sugarcane is often the best choice and sometimes the only choice. One thing is for certain: farmers will face adversity. The best ones know how to turn challenge into victory.
By Jim Simon