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COVID-19 doesn’t stop planting season

• By Bruce Schultz •

loading rice, vermillion parish

A trailer is loaded with rice that had been stored in grain bins at Christian Richard’s farm in Vermilion Parish — photos by Bruce Schultz/LSU AgCenter

Many  schools and workplaces have  closed up shop amid the coronavirus pandemic. But in the world of agriculture,  the show must go on.

In Louisiana, this  is rice and corn  planting season —  a busy and important time of year for farmers, who also will soon begin planting other crops  such as  soybeans  and  cotton.

“We’re wide open,” said Jason Waller, who grows rice, corn and soybeans in Mer Rouge in northern Louisiana.  “They don’t let us take off from work or let us stop. Everybody’s got to eat.”

“Everything’s a go right now as far as corn planting is concerned in Louisiana,” said  LSU  AgCenter corn specialist  Dan Fromme.

Corn farmers just started planting last week, with only about 5% to 10% of the state’s corn  in the ground  so far,  Fromme  said. He  predicts  Louisiana  will have  550,000 to 600,000 acres of corn  this year  —  a slight increase from 2019.

Farmers in some  areas  have been  hindered  not by coronavirus-related problems but by a more familiar foe:  the weather. Rain has made many fields too wet  for operating  planting equipment.

“Most of the farmers I’ve talked to have had to jump around a little bit to find some dry ground,”  Fromme  said.

“We need dry weather badly,” said Waller, who  is planting corn  now and  struggling with wet ground conditions.  “The weather has just not been very cooperative this year.”

It’s important to  plant  during optimum windows; delays can prevent  crops  from performing  to their fullest potential. For corn, ideal planting dates range from  Feb. 25 to March  23 for southern Louisiana and March 24 to April 22 for the northern half of the state.

As time goes by and temperatures heat up, “we begin to slowly lose yield,”  Fromme  said.

Rice season a go

christian richard

Vermilion Parish farmer Christian Richard watches rice being loaded into a trailer he will haul to a local rice mill. The rice is from last year’s crop that he recently sold.

Farmers are  putting  rice  in the ground  and  gearing up to plant  soybeans  —  crops that  covered  about  415,000 acres and  1 million  acres, respectively,  last year  in Louisiana.

“We’re doing what we normally do  — just another day,” said Mike Hundley, an Acadia Parish rice, soybean and crawfish  producer.  He has finished planting about half of  his rice.

Despite closures and uncertainty worldwide, farmers are  continuing to  do  their part in an industry that’s worth $11.7 billion to the Louisiana economy and  that  helps feed and clothe people around the globe.

“Farmers have got to put the seed in the ground.  That’s how they make a living,”  Fromme  said. “Luckily, at  this time of year, farmers are not around a whole lot of people — mainly just themselves  and  a few of their workers. They don’t really have much time to go out and interact with many people. They’re  out in  the fields.  And then at night, they  go back home.  That’s pretty  much  the routine they have this time of year.”

Christian Richard, who farms rice, soybeans and crawfish in Vermilion Parish, said his farming operation is continuing with no interruption, although he’s concerned about the glut of crawfish on the market with restaurants closing.

Richard said he has more than half of his rice planted, and he will follow that with soybean planting. In the meantime, he’s loading truckloads of rice from last year’s crop that he recently sold.

Mike  Salassi, AgCenter associate vice president, said research and outreach  activities that support farmers and  other clientele  will continue during the coronavirus  shutdown.

“Our research stations remain open with essential personnel to carry out necessary operations,”  Salassi  said. “Parish offices are open but have restricted visitors for now, and agents are available by phone or email and will continue to work with the public throughout this time.”

Bruce Schultz is assistant communications specialist at the LSU AgCenter. He may be reached at BSchultz@agcenter.lsu.edu