Louisiana Farms and Timber Still Recovering From Drought

January 9, 2013

North Louisiana farmers and timber growers say they’re beginning to recover from drought in 2010 and 2011. But The Times of Shreveport reports it will take time to rebuild cattle herds and that trees stressed by the drought could continue to die for another two years.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture declared 36 Louisiana parishes drought disaster areas in 2010. In 2011, seven parishes were named drought disaster areas along with 213 Texas counties.

Caddo Parish cattleman Marty Wooldridge culled about 100 head from his herd starting in 2010 because it cost too much to keep them fed. Last year, he started keeping more heifers to increase the herd. But he’s wary of expanding too fast after the drought destroyed the grass root systems in some of his pastures.

He he’s also keeping an eye on the forecast – as all farmers do – because a dry spell could throw northwest Louisiana back into a drought. Farmers in Texas, Arkansas and Missouri are still suffering from below-normal moisture.

“From ’10 and ’11 combined, we were three feet short of total (normal) rainfall,” Wooldridge said. “If you dig down very far, you’re going to find there’s not much soil moisture. We’re not out of the woods yet.”

The long-range forecast through March calls for near-normal rainfall and above-normal average temperatures for northwest Louisiana.

Last year’s weather patterns were close to ideal, with rain coming throughout most of the year, said Matt Hemingway, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Shreveport.

“If you look at a lot of our lake levels, they’re in really good shape,” he said. “But there’s a big disparity. From Shreveport to Texarkana, it’s a drastically different story. It has been a much drier year in Arkansas and Oklahoma.”

LSU AgCenter forestry agent Ricky Kilpatrick expects another year or two of timber problems from the drought. Trees stressed by the lack of water will succumb to insects and disease. Landowners saw an immediate impact during 2011, losing some of their newly planted seedlings and more established trees.

“As far as newly planted trees, the first year is critical,” Kilpatrick said. “We had this in the late ’90s, too.”

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