Wednesday, June 24, 2009

TOP STORY >> Area farmers fear drought after deluge

Leader senior staff writer

Just a month ago, fields and ponds were flooded and Lonoke County farmers wondered if they’d ever get the rest of their crop in.

Now, after a dry week in the upper 90s, some wells already are sucking water out of the aquifer and they’re teetering on the brink of drought, according to Jeff Welch, Lonoke County‘s chief extension agent.

“We’re at 98 degrees (for several days) and no rain and we really dry out in about five days. The topsoil dries the out, but if the seed had absorbed moisture, it will swell, germinate and die in the heat and drought,” Welch said.

“At this point we’re 100 percent planted on soybeans, although we got very late start,” he said. “We expect yield reduction in rice, soybeans and cotton. Most of the corn was planted on time and we’re irrigating corn as fast as we can to make sure that we maintain yield protection.

“Crops with shallow roots easily succumb to drought and heat. Other crops may be in full irrigation soon,” he added.

On the positive side of the ledger, fuel prices dropped from last year. “Our costs are somewhat minimized by the cost of fuel,” he said, “and fertilizer prices have declined. That presents a potential to capture profits.”

Lonoke County farmers have about 3,200 acres in cotton, just more than one-third the acres planted in cotton last year.

Corn acreage this year is about 20,000 acres, up from 17,000 acres in 2008.

Farmers have planted about 88,000 acres of rice this year, but much of it was planted late, which will result in a decreased yield per acre, Welch said.

Farmers have about 124,000 acres of soybeans in the ground, about what they had last year, but because flooding kept them from planting at the best time, the yield should decline some.

“Prices have held up. For soybeans, corn and rice, we have acceptable prices,” he said. Cotton is dismal, so the Pettus gin is closed, leaving only the “New” gin at Coy.