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Harsh Winter Weather Took A Toll On Farmers In Louisiana and Mississippi

Steve Smith
At his farm in Copiah County, Miss., Steve Smith is spending his days heading out into the cold to bust up frozen water troughs for his cattle.

After nearly a week of freezing temperatures, farmers in Mississippi and Louisiana have suffered big losses in livestock and crops, and some of the worst damage won't be known for weeks.

"We just don't know how bad this freeze could have affected the crawfish, the strawberries and the sugarcane industries," said Jim Harper, president of the Louisiana Farmer Bureau Federation. "We could be talking in the millions of dollars, though, statewide."

Much of those potential losses remain hidden below ground. Farmers will find out in a couple weeks if the frozen earth killed the roots of Louisiana's sugarcane crop.

Crawfish farmers don't know yet if the cold caused the crustaceans to retreat from the open waters to underground. Even if they haven't, the uncomfortable weather — combined with COVID-19 restrictions — has already hurt demand during the normal calendar peak.

More immediately, pipes and wells have frozen in Louisiana and Mississippi, causing cattle farmers to worry about their animals dying of dehydration. The farmers have been spending their days breaking ice in ponds and water troughs.

They've also been delivering cattle feed and hay — the animals won't graze on the frozen grass.

The cold weather has led to death of at least seven of Carolyn Jones' cattle in Monroe County, Miss. Six more are missing, but she's just hoping they're on a stretch of her 150 acres she hasn't scouted yet with her drone. The cattle that have survived have also burnt off a lot of their weight to stay warm.

"All of this will stress an animal," Jones said. "Once that animal is stressed, then we're losing dollars because they're losing pounds."

The ice has also caused the roofs of poultry houses to collapse in both states. Farmer Josh Slay, in central Mississippi, said that while his roof held, his neighbor's did not, killing thousands of chickens.

"For the rest of the year he's going to be 26,000 chickens short," Slay said. "So it's a big loss of income."

What caused many farmers the most stress wasn't how low the temperatures dropped but how long they lasted. In some counties in both states farmers saw freezing temperatures for six straight days. That, along with lost power that made it hard for farmers to keep themselves warm too, left farmers unprepared.

"Mother nature has a sense of humor," said Cindy Ayers Elliot, an urban farmer in Jackson, Miss.

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