By Kane Webb
LOCATIONS IN LOUISIANA, TEXAS, ARKANSAS, MISSISSIPPI, & MISSOURI — It’s been a week since Hurricane Laura made landfall in the rice country of southwest Louisiana, carving a path of destruction with winds and rain that then moved on through neighboring states to the north. Effects on the 2020 rice crop are still being assessed to determine the extent of damage.
“Things are slowly improving, but we’ve got a long way to go before we get back to a place we feel comfortable,” said Paul Johnson, who grows rice near Thornwell, in Jeff Davis Parish. “We will probably feel the effects of this storm for years to come on a crop that was shaping up to be one of the best we’d seen in several years.”
By the time Laura hit last Thursday, a majority of the crop in the southern Louisiana parishes had been harvested. Post-storm, growers are dealing with damage to bins plus extended power outages that preclude the operation of drying facilities. Power is being restored in some areas, allowing growers to switch from generators and aeration to full drying functions, but many dryers may be on backup power for some time.
Johnson added, “Rice farmers are resilient, and for those familiar with this industry, you know we’re in it together. Communication and assistance between fellow growers, millers, and merchants have been coordinated for access to generators, available storage, and equipment for repairs to those with resources and those in need.”
If there are any positive aspects from the storm in this region, it is that the storm surge was less than initially expected, sparing southern parishes from complete destruction of the ratoon crop, and rainfall amounts have stayed at manageable levels.
Further north, in central and northeast Louisiana, harvest was just getting underway last week. Damage reports of down rice across those regions is common. “We feared that the storm would lodge virtually all of the rice in northeast Louisiana,” said Scott Franklin in Holly Ridge. “It was a pleasant surprise to find that only about a third of the rice blew over, though we still feel horrible for our friends in the Acadiana rice region.”
Some of the north Louisiana rice crop was just heading when the storm swept through there and Laura’s high winds caused severe damage to rice in this region.
Following Hurricane Laura’s path across Arkansas, additional thunderstorms have hit the state every day through Wednesday. East Arkansas, in particular, has no shortage of water due to rain.
In central Arkansas, the Brantley operation has received a total of 8 to 9 inches of rain in the past week. “We harvested two fields of rice before the storms hit and as soon as the sun comes out for a few days and dries out our turnrows, we’ll be back in the fields harvesting,” said Dow Brantley. “We were lucky to have less than 5 percent downed rice in our community.”
Jeremy Jones and his crew in England were able to harvest 30 percent of their crop a week before Laura hit. “Most of our rice is still standing so we’re pumping water off a few fields and just waiting for the fields to dry out. I expect that once we get back in the fields, we’ll harvest straight through. We were hoping for a short break between harvesting the early and later planted rice but with this week-long delay, by the time we harvest all of our early rice, the later planted fields will be ready.”
Dr. Jarrod Hardke, state rice specialist at the Rice Extension Research Station in Stuttgart, said, “The biggest concerns of producers right now are one, a delay in harvesting rice that is mature and pushing back overall harvest; two, reduced grain quality from harvest delays; and three, reduced yield and quality from lodged rice that continues to fall down worse with additional rains this week. Rutting of fields is also a concern, more so if we fall into a wet winter again that prohibits early field work to prepare for next season. Some of the later maturing rice that was just heading when the hurricane arrived are seeing varying degrees of blanking due to wind damage, with some experiencing substantial loss.”
The Texas crop was spared, although there was temporary loss of power to some rice drying facilities. “I have only seen a very small percentage of main crop rice “down” and honestly most of that was just squatted and not completely flat,” said Dorsey Jones, branch manager of the Helena facility in Raywood. “Our second crop rice took no damage either. Farm buildings and grain bins were all still in good shape with only one farmer south of Beaumont reporting power outages at his on-farm grain bins. We are currently overall about 85-90 percent harvested in Liberty, Chambers, and Jefferson Counties.”
Mississippi and Missouri rice farmers also report minimal damage due to Hurricane Laura. Austin Davis, who farms near Cleveland had a little rice go down, but it was a small enough amount to be considered negligible. Zach Tanner, from the Missouri Bootheel, said, “We were thankful not to have large lodged rice areas, just small spots. However, it has rained here every day since Thursday last week.”
Steve Linscombe, Josh Hankins, and Emily Woodall contributed to this report.