Farmers now wishing for dry soil

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 16, 2001

VIDALIA, La. – As late as last fall, the managers of Angelina Plantation had to use millions of gallons of water to irrigate their fields enough to keep crops healthy.

That is because two years of drought had dried out the soil. But in the last two weeks, the 27,000-acre farm has gotten almost 12 inches of rain, leaving Co-Owner Tommy Ellett wishing for 10 days of dry weather.

&uot;Now, we’re seeing the water run off instead of soaking in. We’re close to caught up on soil moisture,&uot;&160;Ellett said. &uot;Now, we need four days of drying time and five to six days to plant our corn. … Not that I’m complaining.&uot;

Despite heavy rains that have pelted the area in recent weeks, sub-surface soil in Concordia, Catahoula and Tensas parish fields is probably still a little bit drier than usual.

But normal rainfall during the next month should give the soil enough moisture to sustain crops, one of Louisiana’s top climate experts said Tuesday.

In the last four weeks, almost 12 inches of rain have fallen at the nearest U.S. Department of Agriculture reporting station, which is located at St. Joseph.

For the year to date, that station has reported 18.23 inches of rain, well above the normal rainfall of 12.57 inches for the same time period. Those figures include several inches – some estimate up to 10 inches or more – of rain that fell in just a few hours on March 1 and March 2 and almost one inch of rain that fell Monday morning.

&uot;Still, soil moisture is probably still a little bit behind what it usually is this time of year,&uot; said State Climatologist Jay Grymes III, who is based at the Southern Regional Climate Center in Baton Rouge.

&uot;By this time, the soils are usually soaked,&uot; but two consecutive years of drought have depleted the region’s soil moisture, Grymes said.

But recent rains have added much moisture, and with normal rainfall during the next four weeks – one to 1.5 inches of rain each week – crops should not suffer, he said.

&uot;We really needed this rain, especially with the back-to-back years of drought we’ve had in recent years. Hopefully, the water table has been replenished somewhat,&uot; Concordia Parish County Agent Glen Daniels said last week. He noted that specific sub-soil moisture figures were not yet available.

Daniels could not be reach for comment Thursday.