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2005 storms batter state's row crops
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi's row crops took strikes from hurricanes Dennis, Katrina and Rita, but are still in the game with statewide yield losses not expected to top 35 percent.
Hurricane Rita brought torrential rains to much of the state the last weekend in September, and winds as high as 43 mph in Greenville. State meteorologist Charles Wax said in the four-day period that coincided with Rita's presence, Natchez got 7.8 inches of rain, Cleveland 6.32 inches, Greenville 5.62 inches and Stoneville 6.88 inches.
"We were real dry in September until Rita came through," Wax said. "We're about average for the year, but that's an awful lot of rain for one day."
Cotton, damaged a month earlier by Katrina, probably took Rita's worst hit.
"Our Delta cotton was at least 80 perfect defoliated, and although we had started picking, most growers said they only got about 30 percent of their crop out of the field before Rita hit," said Tom Barber, cotton specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
"The closer you get to the Mississippi River, the worse the damage gets," Barber said. "Cotton is strung out across the state and places had 40 percent to 50 percent blown off the plant."
Barber estimated 35 percent cotton loss statewide from the hurricanes.
"We've struggled with expenses from fuel prices and some pests that we don't have every year," Barber said. "It was a fairly expensive crop, and we really needed a good crop this year."
Nathan Buehring, Extension rice specialist working at the Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville, said Rita gave rice a beating. Katrina lodged, or laid over, a lot of rice in fields, and just when producers were finished harvesting that and cutting standing rice, Rita came through and lodged much of what was left.
"Before Rita hit, we had harvested about 65 percent of the crop instead of the 80 percent we typically would have harvested by this point," Buehring said. "The rice crop looks like a total failure, but it's not as bad as it looks."
Buehring said lodged rice can be harvested, but at a much greater expense. He estimated rice losses statewide at 10 percent.
"It costs two to three times as much in time, labor and fuel," Buehring said. "One combine can normally cover 40 to 50 acres a day, but in these conditions, they might get 15 to 20 acres."
High temperatures at flowering prevented a lot of rice kernels from filling out, dry weather meant producers had to pump more water, fertilizer costs were up and fuel costs were high.
"This is the most expensive rice crop we've ever grown, and the price of rice is not real great," Buehring said. "We fought the weather all year long."
Corn and soybeans were the least affected by Rita. Erick Larson, Extension grain crops specialist, said 94 percent of the corn crop was harvested before Rita hit. Katrina severely lodged nearly all the corn south of Interstate 20 and much of the crop south of Highway 82, but producers were able to get most of that harvested before Rita struck.
"We're losing about 10 percent to 15 percent, but that's pretty good compared to the possibility of losing the whole crop," Larson said. "It's not bad considering we endured three hurricanes."
Alan Blaine, Extension soybean specialist, said soybeans fared best of the state's row crops.
"The bulk of the crop was out of the field before Rita hit, so we were not as exposed," Blaine said. "We had the earliest crop in the United States, and we still had some areas that benefitted from the rains from Rita."
Blaine estimated a 10 percent to 15 percent loss statewide from the two hurricanes. Katrina caused crop damage up the eastern side of the state while Rita brought flooding to the Delta.
"It will still be a top three crop, even with Rita, Katrina and the drought this summer," Blaine said.