2008 a tough year for local farmers

Published 1:38 am Monday, December 29, 2008

NATCHEZ — The year 2008 was a bumpy ride for local farmers, one that included floods, drought and hurricanes.

In January, producers were already beginning to feel the pinch from the global and local economic situation. As fuel prices began to rise, so did the cost of nitrogen-based fertilizer, which is processed from natural gas. At that point, fertilizer cost between 30 and 40 percent more than it did in 2007.

In February, farmers waited to see if the 2008 farm bill would be passed. It eventually was, but well after its deadline of March 15 in May.

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But in March, the attention of not only farmers but also the community as a whole was focused at the central geographical feature of the Miss-Lou — the Mississippi River.

By the end of March, the river had reached flood stage, and continued to rise until the end of April, delaying planting in many low-lying flooded areas like Anna’s Bottom and the Carthage Road area in Adams County.

The water would eventually start to creep through the ground in Concordia Parish and saturate it to the point that trees and other plants drowned.

May saw the waters begin to recede, and planting began in many of the affected areas.

Things went a little more smoothly in June, though it began a stretch of dry weather in which some parts of Concordia Parish only saw one rain.

In July, farmers began to burn their fields to start their second planting, and the Mississippi Department of Health reported a case of LaCrosse encephalitis had been confirmed in Adams County. Even then, some floodwaters from earlier in the year lingered in parts of the county.

The drought continued into August, but Tropical Storm Fay brought several inches of rain with it.

While Tropical Storm Fay may have stormed, the first of September brought Hurricane Gustav, which blew much of the standing crops down before dumping approximately 20 inches of rain on the fields in southern Concordia Parish, enough to cover much of the cotton crop with water.

Local agriculture officials would later call it the worst devastation they had ever seen to Concordia crops.

By October, U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu had visited with local farmers and promised to help them with their losses through federal aid.

In November, the legislation Landrieu helped craft — which will direct approximately $1.22 billion in immediate aid for crop recovery — is currently waiting the new legislative session in January.

December saw Louisiana Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain introduce his own $438.2 million hurricane recovery crop recovery plan funded by community development block grants, which will need approval from the state legislature and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

If approved on the expected timeline, the funds — which will be administered in the form of low-interest loans — will be available by March.