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Concordia Parish, state see records yields in 2012

Illustration by Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat

VIDALIA — Farmers across Louisiana received enough timely rains last year to produce record yields for at least five crops, but the Mississippi River cast a shadow on an otherwise extremely profitable year.

U.S. Department of Agriculture and LSU AgCenter figures show increases from last year’s yields to several crops including record yields for corn, soybeans, cotton, grain sorghum and rice.

“Overall, Louisiana did really well in most of the crops because of a combination of factors,” LSU AgCenter entomologist Sebe Brown said. “We didn’t have much of a winter, so it allowed a lot of the guys to get their crops in early and start planning ahead.

“The early planning plus a lot of the timely rains we saw throughout the year helped a lot.”

State totals showed corn yields totaling 170 bushels per acre, up 10 bushels from last year’s numbers.

Concordia Parish totals showed corn yields slightly higher than the state numbers at 180 bushels per acre.

And those numbers were even higher for Vidalia farmer David Yates who recorded approximately 200 bushels per acre — an all-time record for his crops.

“Corn will always be my highest yielder, but this was my highest yield ever for corn,” Yates said. “It’s been a few years since I’ve seen numbers like this, so it’s definitely welcome around here.”

Despite a rice disease called “blast” that affected some crops, state totals showed rice farmers harvested 6,500 pounds per acre, 180 more than last year’s record.

Concordia Parish totals showed a slightly higher record than the state numbers at 7,650 pounds per acre.

Soybean yields showed the least amount of growth from last year with an increase of only one bushel to 44 bushels per acre.

Those low numbers were also reflected in Yates’ yields.

“I didn’t have record yields or extremely high yields on the soybeans, but we’re happy with it,” Yates said. “The main record yields we saw were for soybeans, grain sorghum and corn.”

Grain sorghum yielded 100 bushels an acre statewide and 120 bushels in Concordia Parish.

Cotton yielded 1,025 pounds per acre statewide and 900 pounds per acre in Concordia Parish.

But despite the record yields in those five crops, Brown said the low water levels on the Mississippi River dampened some farmers’ expectations for an overall high year in profits.

“The Mississippi River was so low that a lot of the farmers could only load one barge at a time and even then it was usually only two thirds full,” Brown said. “So overall it was a good year crop wise, but the guys just couldn’t move it as quickly as they wanted to.

“The river was the one dark spot on an otherwise really good year.”

When river levels on the Mississippi River fall, the U.S. Coast Guard restricts the tow depth of barges meaning they can’t carry as much to prevent them from getting stuck.

In August, the Coast Guard had restricted tow depth to 9 feet, which was 3 feet less than the normal 12-foot restriction.

The low river levels, however, did provide a learning experience to those farmers who were left with extra yields they were unable to move, Brown said.

“There were some guys who were questioning building storage bins, but they pulled the trigger after they saw the yields other guys were losing from it sitting around and getting diseases,” Brown said. “If they store it and wait until the price shifts or wait until they can load it on the barge, it’s better in the long run.

“It’s a very expensive option to build the storage bins, but if you drive through the parishes you’ll see a lot more than you would a few years ago.”

While the river levels didn’t present a problem for Yates, he said the lessons learned from each year’s crops are always valuable to see.

“From what I’ve heard, a lot of farmers had a good year but some didn’t for different reasons,” Yates said. “This is a big business, and it will eat you up and spit you out if you’re not ready.”