Miss-Lou affected by dry weather

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 20, 2000

MONTEREY, La. – After two years of low rainfall, the soil of Angelina Plantation was scored with deep cracks last summer — and it still is, even now as workers prepare the dry ground for planting 2,000 acres of corn.

&uot;We need an extended rain, and if we don’t get it we’ll have to wait until we do to plant corn,&uot; said General Manager Lee Bean.

It’s a devil of a choice: Whether farmers wait to plant corn until after mid-April or plant on time in dry soil, they face lower yields. And after corn toxins and drought in 1998 and low prices and rainfall last year, farmers throughout the Miss-Lou can’t afford that.

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&uot;People aren’t being that pessimistic about it yet … but it is a topic of conversation,&uot; Bean said.

And farmers aren’t alone. Weeks of dry weather in the South have affected everything from the price of crawfish to the production of electricity to the time it takes firefighters to control blazes.

On Feb. 1, a downed power line started a fire that burned 25 acres of pastures and woods in the Natchez State Park area. It took all afternoon for Natchez firefighters and Forestry Commission personnel to get the fire under control, said Natchez Deputy Fire Chief Paul Johnson.

&uot;It spread quickly due to the dryness combined with the high winds,&uot; Johnson said.

Thankfully, the number of grass and woods fires to which the Natchez Fire Department has responded has gone up only slightly in recent weeks. Still, the department is urging everyone not to start open fires until rain provides some relief.

Near-record low water levels on the Mississippi River have meant that Louisiana Hydroelectric’s Concordia Parish plant, which produces electricity using the river’s flow, is producing 75 percent less power than it did one year ago.

Ralph Laukhuff, manager of corporate relations, said customers will not notice a difference in service due to the river’s low levels, but the plant will lose revenue.

&uot;If we don’t produce it, we can’t sell it to (Entergy),&uot; Laukhuff said. &uot;Still, there will always be highs and lows. That’s just part of this business.&uot;

Dry weather has even influenced the price of seafood. In many cases, the south Louisiana ponds used to raise crawfish have dried up, lowering the supply and raising the price.

&uot;Last year, crawfish were $1.49 a pound boiled, but now it costs us $3 a pound just to buy them live,&uot;&160;said Winston May, owner of Mr. Whiskers, which sells seafood from a location on John R. Junkin Drive.

And if May didn’t know someone who had managed to keep water levels up during this dry period, he believes he might not have any to sell at all. Still, he said, &uot;the ones who really love crawfish will buy it at most any price.&uot;

Fortunately, local water systems that use multiple wells to tap plentiful groundwater reserves say the drought is not affecting their supply of water and is not increasing demand much.

&uot;It’s not like it would be in the summer, because people aren’t doing things like watering their grass this time of year,&uot;&160;said Superintendent James Thorpe of the Natchez Waterworks. &uot;So far, it’s nothing to write home about.&uot;

Even the water Ferriday gets from Old River, which usually turns water brown and smelly from manganese when water levels are low, has not been affected yet, said water plant Supervisor Mary Farmer.

That is because a 124-day boil water notice for the town in late 1999 forced Ferriday to fix much of its water plant, including adjusting the amount of chemicals that take manganese out of the water.

&uot;Adjusting those chemicals has helped us a lot,&uot; Farmer said. &uot;We’re not seeing any problems yet.&uot;