Friday, July 03, 2009

TOP STORY >> Crops damaged by wind, hail

Leader senior staff writer

High winds and ice-cube-sized hailstones Tuesday afternoon beat crops in eastern Lonoke County like a rented mule.

In all, 26,000 acres or more of Lonoke County’s crops were damaged or destroyed in a matter of minutes in a year when farmers already have suffered floods and near-drought conditions, according to Jeff Welch, county extension service chief agent.

Keith Lewis’ cornfield is a 100 percent loss, Welch said. Corn stalks are broken over and ears are gouged by hail.

“The bright spot was going to be the corn,” Welch said. “About 1,600 acres of corn were damaged in this area. For specific growers, it’s a disaster.”

While the Schafer Road/Hwy. 31 intersection was the epicenter of the storm, the area affected was about four miles wide and 10.5 miles long from near Furlow all the way to the airport at Carlisle.

“The damage varies from 10 percent to 100 percent,” Welch said.

Extension agricultural agents will meet with farmers Monday in the most affected area to help them plot a future course.

For instance, the beat-down corn had headed and it could be harvested for silage, but it might be more cost effective to plow the crop over, preserving the expensive nutrients and replanting, soybeans perhaps, Welch said.

The question will be whether the price for the silage would be greater than the cost of refertilizing the fields.

“As far as I know, none of the farmers had hail insurance,” Welch said. “We are going to have some real severe financial losses.”

The beans and leaves were stripped off some soybean plants, leaving only stems poking out of the earth, he said, and if rice was clipped, that crop will have reduced yields.

The Monday meeting will be at 8 a.m. at the Scott Mitchell farm shop on Hwy. 31, Welch said. “About 27 farmers are the real audience.”

“The hidden story is that a lot of people live in that area, many of them elderly, that will have to replace shingles or had car damage.”

At the home of Melvin Schafer and the adjoining, the hail broke windows, gouged the vinyl siding and hammered the fins on the central air conditioner.

A car and a truck had hail damage.

Also throughout the area, farm ponds — not commercial fishponds — “turned over” in the storm, mixing the colder, putrefied matter from the bottom of the ponds and tying up oxygen. In some cases the turnover caused huge fish kills, according to Hugh Thomforde, the extension water specialist.

Typically, this problem occurs only in ponds deeper than six feet, while the average commercial fishpond is about three-and-a-half-feet deep, he said.