BATON ROUGE, La. (Tobie Blanchard) - A winter storm that blanketed most of Louisiana in snow and ice, shutting down schools and businesses, didn't cause much damage to the state's agriculture.
Kurt Guidry, an LSU AgCenter economist, conducted a survey of major commodities.
"Fortunately, it looks like from a statewide perspective, the effects will be fairly minimal. However, like with any adverse weather situation, there are individual producers and commodities that are impacted." Guidry said.
Strawberry farmers are seeing the most injury to their crop. As temperatures started to rise on Thursday, Ponchatoula farmer, Eric Morrow, pulled back the row covers that protect his crop to survey the damage.
"We probably got a few red berries that we saved and some green fruit, but we lost all the flowers that we had," Morrow said.
It takes anywhere from 21 to 35 days for new flowers to set fruit, so Morrow said it will be the middle of March before he has a good crop of strawberries.
"The season will be delayed," he said. "We'll have a lot of berries for our traditional March and April season."
Regina Bracy, director of the LSU AgCenter's Hammond Research Station, said the winter has been so cold that farmers have had to keep their strawberries mostly covered, uncovering them only to pick and spray.
"The crop is going to be more expensive to produce because farmers have to provide so much cold protection," Bracy said.
Also, the inability to sell strawberries early in the season when prices are typically highest could affect the overall average price that producers receive for their crop.
Guidry said crawfish farmers are reporting that the catch will be delayed, but the freeze did not result in any mortality.
He also said a few newborn calves were killed by the freezes, but numbers were not excessive, and poultry producers are experiencing increased energy costs this year to help keep their poultry houses warm.
Guidry said cattle farmers will likely face bigger challenges from reduced forage production.
"This will likely cause producers to have to incur additional feed and hay costs as they try to offset lower forage production," Guidry said.
Ed Twidwell, a pasture and forage crop specialist, with the LSU AgCenter said this has not been a good year for either ryegrass or small grain pastures, but he is optimistic.
"We are still pretty early in the grazing season and the ryegrass and forage crops can recover and produce a great deal of grazing during the spring," Twidwell said.
LSU AgCenter's wheat specialist, Josh Lofton, said he has seen a good deal of leaf burning on the state's wheat crop, but he believes the damage is superficial and should not impact yields.
The state's citrus harvest was nearly complete when the storm hit, but Guidry reported there could be minor damage on trees, particularly on young trees, and that could affect production for the next harvest.
Most nursery crop growers took precautions and covered vulnerable plants, so widespread damage and plant death is not expected. But Guidry said the costs involved with protecting plants are going to raise growers' production costs. Heating greenhouses and covering plants add to fuel and labor costs.
Nursery owners also are seeing a drop in sales as demand has turned cold along with the temperatures, but it could pick up in spring as homeowners look to replace lost plant material.
"All in all, the state's agricultural industry likely dodged a bullet from this latest adverse weather event," Guidry said. "There could be some positives that come from the cold temperatures."
For most of the state's major row crops, the cold temperatures may have reduced the populations of insects and disease, lowering the amount of pest pressure crops see later this spring.
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