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July 11, 2009

July rain late for many Louisiana crops

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — As thunderstorms pounded much of south Louisiana last week, farmers and crop specialists wondered whether the rainfall was enough to stave off damage to their already parched fields.

LSU Agricultural Center experts said it's still too early in the growing season to know for sure how the drought and record-breaking temperatures in June and early July will affect the state's sugar cane, corn, rice and soybean yields.

Sugar cane, the state's No. 1 valued row crop, benefited from the recent heat wave, but not the rainless days, said Kenneth Gravois, resident coordinator for the LSU AgCenter's Sugar Research Station in St. Gabriel.

"Sugar cane is a tropical plant and it loves the weather we hate — long, hot, humid days," Gravois said.

When there's a normal amount of rain, sugar cane can grow up to an inch a day, he said. Because rain is usually plentiful in the southern part of the state, few farmers have irrigation systems.

"In fact, the cultural practice is to take water off of the fields," Gravois said. "We can average 60 to 70 inches of rain a year. We're usually more worried about taking water off of a field and not putting it on one."

But it's still early in the growing season. "There's been some damage to the crop, but it's not too late," Gravois said. "Sugar cane is a resilient crop and it can bounce back. Everyone would breathe easier if we would just get some rain."

Al Landry, who has 2,000 acres of sugar cane planted on his farm just south of Plaquemine, said he is still optimistic his crop will do well.

"If we get the rain to come now, I think most of my fields will be OK," he said.

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