No federal aid exists for the nearly $100 million in damage that Hurricane Isaac unleashed on crops across Louisiana.
The LSU AgCenter estimates the biggest impact was on sugar cane, cotton, citrus, sweet potatoes and pecans. However, the Category 1 storm also whipped and saturated hundreds of acres of corn, rice and soybeans.
State Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain said he wants to figure out how much of the damage was uninsured before hitting Capitol Hill to beg for the federal government’s assistance.
“We’re going to try hard to help with these losses, the uninsured losses,” he said.
Strain recently toured St. James, St. John the Baptist and St. Charles parishes to look at the sugar-cane crop. He found fields still underwater.
The LSU AgCenter reported 379,246 of 420,000 acres of sugar cane to be affected in 19 parishes. In dollars, the yield impact is expected to be $55 million once the cane is harvested over the next few months.
Growers’ best hope is for a dry fall that will allow the cane to straighten and mature.
“Weather conditions over the next several weeks will go a long way in determining the final impact. Sunny, dry weather conditions will help the sugar cane crop that has been laid over due to the storm to begin to pick itself back up to some extent. ... If the weather over the next several weeks continues to be rainy so that the fields never get a chance to dry up, then the impact could grow somewhat,” LSU AgCenter economist Kurt M. Guidry said.
Sugar cane is planted in the fall and harvested the following fall. One planting generally produces three years of harvests.
Frankie Sotile, who farms 3,000 acres of sugar cane in St. James, Ascension and Assumption parishes, worries about root damage and poor harvest yields because the storm soaked his fields and uprooted cane.
He does not have crop insurance.
At Sotile’s fields near Donaldsonville, the storm blew over some of his cane, twisting it in the process.
“You wake up one morning and you have a tremendous crop, beautiful, and then you come the next day and you see a crop like this. Cane’s supposed to be 15 feet tall and you find it two feet from the ground. But that’s Mother Nature,” Sotile said.
Statewide, the damage is less than what agricultural officials feared. However, the storm hit while farmers still were planting next year’s sugar cane crop. Many fields will have to be replanted.
Guidry said farmers may have to switch planting methods.
With sugar cane, farmers harvest some acres for sugar and harvest other acres for seed to plant future crops. Storm damage could force farmers to harvest the cane in smaller pieces for seed, requiring more acres to be used for seed instead of money-generating sugar.
Replanting fields also will hit farmers’ pocketbooks.
Reed St. Pierre, who has 595 acres of cane in St. John the Baptist Parish, said he has 10 acres that still are underwater two weeks after the hurricane hit.
He said he will have to plow those acres and replant.
“Mother Nature’s not cooperating. We had rain again this morning. ... Farmers can’t finish planting,” St. Pierre said.
Like Sotile, St. Pierre does not have crop insurance.
Strain said there is no federal funding to help the farmers despite the millions of dollars typically spent to feed storm victims and help repair their homes.
The farm bill, which provides aid such as crop insurance to farmers, is stalled in Congress. The current farm bill expires Sept. 30 and contains no active disaster provisions.
“We’re going to have to fight very hard to get assistance,” Strain said.