Southwest Louisiana farmers scramble ahead of approaching hurricane

Bruce Schultz / LSU Ag Center

Agricultural producers are scrambling across southwest Louisiana to protect their livelihoods, making final preparations in case Hurricane Harvey hits Louisiana.

Keith Savoie, LSU AgCenter extension agent in Cameron Parish, said commercial fishing boats are being moved north to inland waterways. Some cattle are being relocated to higher ground.

“We’ve got a high-water situation right now,” Savoie said. “Anything on top of that will be really bad.”

Unusually high tides are forecast for early next week. “It doesn’t look good right now. It could be really bad for us,” Savoie said.

Savoie said he got 4 inches of rain at his house Thursday. “All the drainage ways and laterals and ditches are full,” he said.

The decision was made early Friday to close the Cameron Parish AgCenter extension office, and a mandatory evacuation is anticipated. “I see people scurrying around, and cattle are being hauled out,” he said.

Hurricane Harvey is resurrecting memories two hurricanes that devastated Cameron Parish: hurricanes Rita in 2005 and Ike in 2008. “It’s kind of déjà vu. A little bit nauseating, actually,” Savoie said.

Some hay producers have been unable to cut grass in the past few weeks because of rainfall. “I haven’t seen much cut in the lower part of the parish,” he said

Bradley Pousson, also an extension agent in Cameron Parish, said owners of large trailers are helping cattle owners move their herds to higher ground, and he is helping coordinate that effort. “That’s the key, figuring out who needs help,” he said.

Some cattle are being moved as far north as the Shreveport area. “They’re going to be scattered all over,” Pousson said.

Hay will be in short supply from the area because the heavy rains made harvest difficult.

Many people had started moving cattle about a month ago because of high water from constant rains. “We’ve been getting more and more water every week,” Pousson said.

Andrew Granger, AgCenter extension agent in Vermilion Parish, said high tides expected next week, in addition to heavy rain, will flood low areas along the coast. “There’s no place for water to go. It could get disastrous,” he said.

Keith Hawkins, AgCenter extension agent in Beauregard Parish, said cutting hay has been problematic there also because of frequent rain. Farmers “just try to fit it in when they can,” he said

Plans were underway to use a large, covered livestock arena near DeRidder to house evacuated cattle, Hawkins said.

Jimmy Flanagan, AgCenter extension agent in St. Mary Parish, said rain has complicated sugarcane planting. Farmers should have been 75-80 percent finished, but they are nowhere near that level. And the storm will set planting behind even further.

“Some areas have been unfortunate to get rain every day,” Flanagan said. “Guys are trying to find high spots to plant.”

Blair Hebert, AgCenter extension agent in Iberia Parish, said cane planting typically starts Aug. 1, and many farmers are way behind. “We just have not had any consistent weather pattern where we could start,” he said.