"There's negative crawfish," Mclain says. "I'm catching shrimp and crabs in my traps."
Mclain's ponds were overwhelmed on Sept. 24 by the saltwater surge from Hurricane Rita, which carried shrimp and crabs inland with the tide. Detraz estimates 70 percent of the crawfish harvest from Vermilion is in dire straits because of the high level of salinity in the soil and water. And what hurts crawfish also harms rice ' both crops face serious challenges because they are so dependent on fresh water.
Prior to Rita, an extended drought caused crawfish to die in the ground. Then Rita's inundation of saltwater killed the rice stubble crawfish depend on for food. Following the hurricane, drought conditions have continued, leaving ponds to dry with a white salty crust covering the mud. The irrigation ditches typically used to pump water into crawfish ponds are also filled with salt-soaked water. Until heavy winter rains dilute the salt, fields will lie barren of vegetation and crawfish.
"It has to rain to flush it out," says Detraz. "The storm surge came up in here, and it was full of mud and salt, and it settled on top of the stubble and killed everything. There wasn't any oxygen in the water. [The smell] still stinks."
Crawfish sales tide rice farmers over until they harvest their summer crop. From January through March, rice farmers use the cash flow from their crawfish harvest to borrow money to buy seed, chemicals, fertilizer and new equipment, as well as pay off last year's loan. Without crawfish, there is no cash flow for most farmers. "If we can't borrow money, we can't pay our bills, can't plant rice," Detraz says. "If it stays like it is, 50 percent less acreage will be planted in rice [this] year."
Rice in Vermilion Parish in 2004 was a $34.5 million industry. Last summer's yields were even higher, but Rita destroyed the second crop. Rita's legacy has cast doubt on the ability to grow any rice at all this year in lower Vermilion Parish. "Even if we plant and the rice sprouts, we don't know if it will make a head," Tessier says. The LSU Agricultural Center in Crowley is conducting soil samples to see if any rice will survive in the salt-saturated earth. Howard Cormier, rice specialist with the Abbeville LSU Ag Center, says the current conditions may decrease rice acreage by 30 percent or more. "That's a decrease of $10 million to $12 million right there," he notes. "Losses continue to go up and mount as we try to remediate."
Rita's blow backhanded Louisiana's rice farmers who have struggled with rising fuel costs and declining rice prices over the past five years. "Farmers are going out of business, going bankrupt," Detraz says. "We're not getting any response from the federal government. Nobody knows what to do."
"The farmers are not in any way, shape or form overstating the crisis they are facing," says Randy Jemison, director of Louisiana Field Services for the USA Rice Federation. Jemison is closely watching as Mississippi and Louisiana lawmakers attempt to cultivate support on Capitol Hill for a relief bill for farmers. "We do know there will be disaster assistance, but growers don't need loans to add to their debt load, they need a direct payment," he says. "Once you add another loan to the existing carryover, how are they going to get financing for the coming year? The rice industry is suggesting a direct payment. It's the quickest and most efficient way to get dispersal money to eligible growers.
"It's a matter of timing," he continues. "They are making their loans for the spring planting right now. If they have to go chasing paper for the winter months, it's going to throw them behind in getting any assistance. They need assistance right now."
Of the original $62 billion appropriated by Congress immediately after Hurricane Katrina, approximately $15.5 billion still hasn't been distributed. (The money is controlled by FEMA.) While the Defense Bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on Dec. 19 includes a $29 billion package for hurricane relief, the big outstanding sectors still unfunded are housing, flood insurance and agriculture. Direct assistance needs to "get back into the hands of the people back home," says U.S. Rep. Charles Melancon, who is spearheading the agriculture funding effort for Louisiana.
Melancon has tried another approach to open the coffers of a U.S. Department of Agriculture hurricane disaster program. Following Hurricane Charley in 2004, the USDA made payments to Florida's citrus industry totaling $408 million. While the USDA announced in October that $250 million in funds was available for hurricane-damaged agriculture production areas along the Gulf Coast, no action has taken place to disperse the funds. Melancon wrote White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and urged immediate dispersal of the money.
Meanwhile, crawfishermen and rice farmers in lower Vermilion have no crawfish to sell, no cash flow, and no ability to get loans from local banks for the upcoming season, Detraz complains.
"In 12 weeks, it will be time to plant rice," Tessier says. "Usually I plant 500-600 acres. But there's too much indecision. Money has to come from Washington in January. We were in trouble before the storm. Now, we're on our backs."
"This is not just an agricultural crisis," Jemison adds. "Look at the big picture. Bankers, equipment dealers, the local gas station, every business is going to be affected by the crisis facing the farmers. Our dollars come from agriculture. This thing is going to impact all of south Louisiana economically if there is not some sort of assistance."
The Lafayette City-Parish Council on Tuesday will vote on a resolution that if approved would clear the way for a December ballot proposition asking voters to approve a 1-cent sales tax parishwide to help fund the construction of a new terminal at Lafayette Regional Airport.
Just days before the fourth anniversary of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster and oil spill, the Coast Guard has moved cleanup of Louisiana's coast to a new phase, allowing BP to end its "active" efforts in the area.
Legislators still must leave their guns at the door of the Louisiana Capitol.
Sen. Fred Mills may have an "R" behind his name, but his actions in the Louisiana Legislature transcend the established boundaries of his party.
The Louisiana House overwhelmingly rejected a repeal of the state's unconstitutional anti-sodomy law Tuesday.
The Louisiana Senate sided with Gov. Bobby Jindal and the oil industry Tuesday, agreeing to void a lawsuit that a south Louisiana flood board filed against more than 90 oil and gas companies for coastal damage.
Wednesday's Blogs from the Bog!
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Wednesday, April 16, 2014:
Acadian rep notifies would-be supporters that an April 25 fundraiser for the embattled U.S. rep won’t go on as planned.
While it isn’t all too unusual for public bodies to have hired security present during meetings, the LPSB’s push to do so is arguably a response to the antics of one board member.
“I’m running. Why would I be raising all this money? Just to have to return it to people?”
With incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu watching from afar, and with a united Democratic Party in her corner, the fight to get the GOP officially behind Congressman Bill Cassidy is gaining just as much momentum as it is hushed controversy.
15th Judicial District Judge Durwood Conque has announced that he will not seek re-election after 27 years on the bench.
The controversial standardized tests are set to be used in third-grade through eighth-grade public school classrooms next year.
The Louisiana Senate has agreed to prohibit unmanned aircraft from flying over chemical plants, water treatment systems, telecommunications networks and other items considered "critical infrastructure" in Louisiana.
It didn’t take long for KATC TV 3 to jump all over the news of a dead body found in Girard Park, but in its rush to produce headlines, the local TV station got sloppy.
An unholy trinity of civil-society upheavalers whose first names are not Conner, Tanner or Logan are facing charges in Eunice.
Now that lawmakers have shot down efforts to cap annual interest rates for payday loans, supporters for stricter regulations of the storefront lenders are rallying behind another strategy.
The Appropriations Committee held public testimony day, letting people talk about what they like or don't like about Gov. Bobby Jindal's budget recommendations for the 2014-15 fiscal year that begins July 1.
Lafayette police are investigating the death of a 21-year-old woman whose body was found early Sunday in a drainage ditch in Girard Park.
Former Grant parish District Attorney Ed Tarpley says he's running for the U.S. House seat currently held by Republican Vance McAllister of Swartz.
Louisiana-Lafayette got strong starting pitching and timely hitting to hold off Arkansas-Little Rock 6-3 in Sun Belt Conference baseball in Lafayette, La.
Chris Williams knows how to pilfer from the public coffers, this time with a back-pay lawsuit filed three years ago against the Lafayette Housing Authority, which netted the former city-parish councilman a cool five figures.
McAllister's office vowed that he intended to stay in office — for now. As for questions about whether he would stand for re-election in November, those were dodged.
The Green Army's Lafayette brigade has announced it will pay a visit Friday morning to Sen. Page Cortez to urge him to vote against Sen. Robert Adley's SB 553, which the group is calling the "Big Oil Bailout Bill of 2014."