Friday, May 21, 2010

TOP STORY > >Farmers are planting again

Leader senior staff writer

Two hailstorms in 10 days in the England area cost Dow and Laudies Brantley 500 to 600 acres of crops, according to Lonoke County Chief Extension Agent Jeff Welch.

“Several fields were completely annihilated,” he said, including about 200 acres in cotton and corn.

“We’ll replant the cotton next week,” said Dow Brantley, “and the beans. We’ll live with the corn and see if it will make. We have hail insurance.”

Brantley said that including near neighbors, about 1,000 acres were affected by the two storms.

Jimmy Wallace also lost about 150 acres.

In all, farmers will have to replant 2,000 acres or more, according Welch.

“Thank God its not like July of last year,” Welch said, when hailstorms near harvest destroyed about 11,000 acres in the county.

Last year, farmers were beset by hail, floods and drought.

“It started off to be one of the quickest years in planting,” Brantley said. “We had the entire crop planted before rains hit, but we are (still) ahead of schedule. We need some warm weather.”

The National Weather Service has forecast temperatures in the 90s this weekend.

“The whole community if off to a fast start,” Brantley said. Last fall, wet and rutted fields kept farmers at bay, and rainy harvest weather diminished some crops.

While some producers have cut back on cotton, the Brantleys have planted 1,600 acres this year, an increase of more than 50 percent over the 900 acres they planted last year.

“We have cotton equipment. If we’re going to stay in the cotton business, we need to grow cotton,” Brantley said.

Last year, the family hauled its cotton to a gin in Marianna.

“If we’re going to have a cotton industry, there is going to be a (continued) consolidation of gins. On the farming side, we’re about as cheap and efficient as we can be. The more efficient gins are the ones that will last.”

With the closing of the Pettus Gin, the so-called New Gin at Coy is the last gin standing in Lonoke County.

In a 60-acre field in adjacent Prairie County, a farmer and Extension Service weed specialists have discovered in a rice field a stand of barnyard grass resistant to three herbicides.

“This is an issue we’re trying to address in Lonoke County,” Welch said. “We’re addressing it in the field with different herbicides and crop rotation.”

The danger is that the barnyard grass, unchecked can compete with or crowd out the rice plants, or grow over them making it hard to harvest the rice, according to Bob Scott, extension service weed specialist.

“Over half of our rice is ClearField, and Newpath is the primary herbicide,” Scott said. But the barnyard grass in question is resistant to Newpath—which is a new development—and to Propanil and Facet, to which grasses developed resistance in the 1960s and 1970s.

Scott said best way to control the barnyard grass and prevent its spread is through crop rotation and through prudent use of two remaining herbicides, primarily Command.

“We can do a lot of good with one year of crop rotation,” Scott said.

If farmers alternated rice with soybeans, and then applied Command as well as other herbicides in turn, the grass could be killed and its spread slowed.

“When this spreads — and it will — we’ll have only Command, Ricestar-type products and Prowl left for controlling barnyard grass,” says Ken Smith, another Arkansas Extension weed specialist.

“Weed control in (the Prairie County) field is now severely limited. Growers need to know resistance can happen quickly and results in serious consequences.”

“Once a resistant weed is found, history tells us its not going to go away until some new technology comes along,” said Scott.

He said not much herbicide development is underway.

If the LibertyLink rice—which is genetically modified to be resistant to a new herbicide—had been approved and had been accepted by buyers in Europe and Japan, that would have been the next advance, Scott said.

Instead, LibertyLink rice is on the shelf and about 15 Lonoke County growers won a judgment of about $50 million last month from LibertyLink’s owner and developer, Bayer CropScience.