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Louisiana farmers struggle with dry conditions

NEW ORLEANS (AP)--Louisiana got some welcome rain in late June, but farmers were still worrying about vulnerable crops in drought conditions that even threatened to cancel their Fourth of July fireworks displays.

"So far, we're 4 1/2 inches (of rain) behind for the year, and for the month, we're almost every bit of that--3 1/2 inches,'' said Gary Chatelain, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service. "We were doing pretty good through May. June's been a real disappointment.''

Price Bundy of Ida, who grows cotton and corn, said corn ears are just starting to fill out and may be stunted without more rain.

"For us, since it was a fairly decent rain, we were able to turn off some of our irrigation equipment for a day or two," Bundy said.

"The bad thing is it was not area-wide. It was pretty well isolated,'' he said.

This time of year is also crucial for soybeans, hay and pastures, said Bundy's father, John Bundy Sr. of Bundy Farms near Benton.

Meteorologist Tim Destri, with the NWS in Slidell, said the New Orleans area was more than 10 1/2 inches below normal--or about two-thirds the usual amount for the first half of the year.

In Terrebonne Parish, the dry weather had caused a different sort of problem for Herdis J. Neil, who grazes about 125 cattle on a Dulac pasture usually watered by a 3-mile-long drainage ditch.

The ditch dried out, stranding hundreds of carp, trout, perch, gar, other fish and turtles.

"I thought somebody had killed all my cows, there were so many buzzards along that ditch,'' he said June 29.

It wasn't just stinky and unsightly; the ditch runs along a drainage levee, and the 7- to 8-foot difference in water inside and outside the levee last week could endanger the levee, said Perry Blanchard, the parish's public works operations manager.

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