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Isaac’s toll on Mississippi crops far less than damage in Louisiana

Just how much damage Hurricane Isaac did to crops in the southern portion of the state has yet to be fully determined.

Hurricane Isaac’s winds blew so strong for so long that they forced the Mississippi River to flow backwards for more than 24 hours on Aug. 28.

As Isaac departed, it left much of Louisiana’s citrus crop in ruins just a month away from harvesting. Isaac’s aftermath in Mississippi is not nearly as bleak as in the neighboring Bayou State, yet-to-be-completed damage assessments show.

South Mississippi’s blueberry fields could have suffered the same fate as Louisiana citrus from the late-August hurricane had the berry crop not been harvested earlier in the summer.

Just how much damage Isaac did to crops in the southern portion of the state has yet to be fully determined. But it’s clear that row crops — corn and cotton, in particular — bore the brunt of the damage, according to Eddie Smith, agricultural agent and extension director for the counties of Pearl River and Hancock.

The damaged fields were few in number, however, Smith said.

Soybeans and peanuts sustained some damage as well, he added.

No dollar amount has been put on the damage. That will have to await further inspections of the corn and cotton fields, he said.

“We still have the corn out there in the field,” Smith noted. “Farmers have to see how much they will be able to harvest. It’s the same thing with cotton.”

Inspections so far show some wind damage to both corn and cotton. In the cornfields, Smith said, “The winds will blow the stalks over so the combine can’t harvest the corn.”

Wind damage to cotton in some fields could bring lower yields compared to last year, according to Smith.

Darrin Dodds, Extension cotton specialist, said in a post-Isaac report that much of the state’s cotton crop was at a critical stage when the storm came through the state. As of Aug. 26, about 55 percent of the crop had open bolls, and some of the crop had been defoliated.

“Defoliated cotton has no leaves that can protect open bolls from weather-related damage,” he said. “That cotton is subject to the lint stringing out of the bolls, which can result in yield losses, fiber quality degradation and seeds sprouting in the boll, among other issues.”

In a damage assessment for Pearl County, Smith noted a cornfield off Highway 43 in the Henley field area sustained crop losses of 30 percent to 40 percent over an 18-acre swath. Another field on Highway 43 had a 25 percent to 30 percent loss from wind blowing the tops off of plants, he reported.

A pair of Pear River County watermelon fields also took sizable losses. One field of 25 acres had a 80 percent to 90 percent loss and another of 10 acres had a similar loss, according damage reports.

Also, a 12.5-acre pecan grove in Pearl River County showed a crop loss, the report noted.

Issac moved slowly and brought the region sustained winds of 40 mph to 50 mph, he said. “The main thing was that it was a consistent wind that lasted for a long period of time.”

Rain brought its share of problems, as well, especially in low-lying fields. “In Poplarville the rain gauge was 16 inches. Some locations got up to 20 inches. We had a lot of roads that flooded that normally do not,” Smith said.

Some livestock disappeared in the storm at farms that had fence damage. Three cows went missing from a Hancock County farm that had 2,640 feet of fencing damaged, and six horses disappeared from a Hancock County farm whose fencing sustained damage.

“We saw nothing major like they had in Louisiana where cows actually drowned,” Smith said.

He said inspections in Pearl River and Hancock counties turned up a dead cow “here and there.”

One farmer and a pair of horses escaped a close call with rising water, he said. The farmer had to be rescued from his house as water began threatening to flood it. But nothing could be done for a pair of the farm’s horses trapped in water up to their necks, Smith said, though he added the animals ultimately survived. “The water receded the next day and the horses were fine.”

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