NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Marty Frey harvested 600 acres of wheat from the Morganza Spillway before it was opened, but his rice there was another matter. He alternates rice and crawfish, and had planned to add 650 acres of rice to the 450 already planted in the spillway's fertile soil.
Those fields are deep under water since the spillway was opened to keep high water from imperiling Mississippi River levees from Baton Rouge to New Orleans.
Frey, who lives in the village of Morganza, said he also removed pumps and other irrigation equipment from the rice fields, and it took so long to for officials to decide to open the spillway that was starting to worry that he might lose the rice for lack of irrigation.
"I guess I can understand they didn't know for sure. But it did make it a little difficult for us on the backside," he said. "It's got a little more water than it needs now."
How much? "At a guesstimate, 15 feet, maybe," he said. "It's hard to tell because it's all water" without any depth gauges.
But Frey and other farmers saved their wheat, thanks to a warm, dry spring that ripened it early.
Pointe Coupee Parish produced almost a quarter of Louisiana's winter wheat last year. About 3,500 to 4,000 acres — probably 10 percent of this year's total in Pointe Coupee — were planted between the levees that channel waters through the floodway, said LSU AgCenter county agent Miles Brashier.
It all was harvested safely, he said.
"We were 10 to 14 days ahead of time," AgCenter wheat specialist Ed Twidwell he said Thursday. "If we'd've had a normal harvesting schedule, we'd've been in big trouble. With it being so warm and dry this year, it matured the wheat faster than normal."
Wheat is a small crop in Louisiana, and though rice is one of the state's biggest crops, only a small fraction is grown in the spillway area.
Frey said he cut his spillway wheat a few days earlier than he'd have liked. Rather than letting it dry in the field, he said, he dried it in grain bins "because of the rush to get it out."
He said he flew over the spillway this week, and the water was much deeper and faster than he had expected.
"We're waiting to see what sort of damage there is to the infrastructure of the farm — roads, pipes, drainage systems, erosion — we don't know what's going to happen," he said. He said the rice and crawfish operation set up over the past eight years required precision leveling, underground wells, drainage, ditches, pipes and roads.
"Not that we didn't know we were doing this inside the spillway and with some risk involved," he said.
In Concordia Parish, across the Mississippi River from Natchez, Miss., wheat farmers had a different problem from Frey's. Wendell Walker of Monterey, about 15 miles south of Vidalia, has about 1,300 acres of wheat, 1,600 of oats, 5,400 of soybeans and 4,500 of rice. "We need rain," he said. "One side of the levee is all flooded and on the other side, everything's burning up."