Weather service downgrades Isaac, but threats persist

by Jay Sjerven and Erica Shaffer
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KANSAS CITY — Hurricane Isaac raged ashore across the Delta states Aug. 29 with strong winds and torrential rain submerging crops in some areas and interrupting power to hundreds of thousands of residents and hundreds of businesses. Flood waters overtopped levees at points, but the walls separating the neighborhoods of New Orleans from another disaster held.

By late afternoon, the National Weather Service downgraded Isaac to tropical storm status. However, the NWS warned about life-threatening hazards from storm surges and inland flooding. The storm’s general path was known for days allowing civil authorities and emergency responders to make their preparations.

Poultry companies were making preparations ahead of the storm. The hurricane was forecast to move through major chicken-producing states. Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi account for roughly one-third of US chicken production.

Joe Sanderson, chief executive officer of Sanderson Farms, said the company's plants would shut down one shift Aug. 28 in Mississippi and Louisiana and then another on Aug. 29. At Tyson, workers prepared for the storm by topping off feed bins, reducing levels of wastewater in treatment holding areas, checking generators, cleaning gutters and securing poultry production areas.

Power outages are of great concern to poultry producers who must keep poultry flocks cool. Some farmers will run tractors around the clock to power generators that run cooling systems in poultry houses, according to news reports.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) encouraged livestock producers to maintain thorough records of their livestock and feed losses, including additional expenses for feed purchas because of lost supplies, for example.

"There are extraordinary circumstances caused by a variety of disasters from fires in the west, floods in Florida, Hurricane Isaac in the Gulf region, storms in the Mid-Atlantic and drought and heat affecting the heartland," said Juan Garcia, USDA Farm Service Agency administrator. "Each of these events is causing economic consequences for ranchers and producers including cattle, sheep and dairy operations, bee keepers and farm-raised fish, and poultry producers."

Grain export elevators along the lower Mississippi river were closed in advance of the storm as were sugar mills and other food facilities. The US Coast Guard closed the Port of New Orleans to shipping for the duration of the storm. Barges on the river were at dock until it was safe to travel once again.

Delta farmers rushed to complete their corn harvest before the storm, but soybean harvesting was in early stages. The US Department of Agriculture indicated 88 percent of Louisiana corn was harvested by Aug. 26 compared with 73 percent as the recent five-year average for the date. The harvest pace recently was slowed because of transportation problems. The Midwest drought dropped water levels in the Mississippi river, which meant barges could not be loaded to capacity, which, in turn, backed up corn loadings.

The Mississippi corn harvest was 72 percent completed by Aug. 26 compared with 42 percent as the average for the date, and 9 percent of the state’s soybeans were harvested, which was equal to the average pace.

The Louisiana soybean harvest was 18 percent completed by Aug. 26 compared with 12 percent as the average for the date.

Most damage from Hurricane Isaac was expected to be consigned to southern portions of the Delta states. Farther north, producers hoped heavy rains from the storm would help dent even if not break the worst and most extensive drought for at least the past 50 years.

Assessments of crop damage in the Delta states was expected to be reflected in the USDA’s weekly Crop Progress report to be issued on Sept. 3.

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