Wednesday, February 02, 2011

TOP STORY >> News not all bad for farmers

Leader senior staff writer

Despite televised reports of drought in Prairie County, the moisture content of the soil is just fine next door in Lonoke County, according to Lonoke County Extension Service Chief Jeff Welch.

“Right now we’re in good shape on wheat,” Welch said Monday. “We need to have it tillering (branching off to make more than one wheat head),” Welch said. “Too much water, it wouldn’t tiller.

“Too much water inhibits tiller formation,” Welch said. Each tiller equals one head. The more tillers on one plant, the better off.

One head per square foot equals a bushel per acre, Welch said. “We can get anywhere from two or three to eight or nine.”

Arkansas wheat yields over the last 20 years have nearly doubled for some producers in some fields to 80 bushels per acre or more.

Welch said the wheat plants will shut down when the cold weather washes over the state this week, but they will begin tillering again after a couple of warm days.

“We’re hopeful we’ll have a good crop this year,” he said. “We have a good price.”

While the rainfall is beneficial to the wheat crop, which is already in the ground, farmers will need some rain come planting time. “We’ll plant corn the last week of March, and rice. We’ll start planning soybeans around April 10 and start cotton around April 25 to 30,” he said.

We want to have some moisture in our soils, but not too much. If it gets too dry, we’ll have to wait on planting, and if it gets too late, yields will be reduced, he said.

Most Lonoke County farmers irrigate most of their fields, so irrigation for those crops, although expensive, is an option.

“If you look at the White River, it’s down low,” he said.

Welch said the eventual completion of the $614 million Bayou Meto irrigation, flood- control and wildlife-habitat management program, an idea coming to fruition 50 years after Congress first authorized it, would benefit nearly all county farmers east of Lonoke.

The Bayou Meto Basin Project includes portions of Lonoke, Jefferson, Prairie, Arkansas and Pulaski counties. The project area encompasses 765,745 acres, of which 369,874 acres are irrigated and 22,942 acres are commercial fishponds.

Welch said the extension service’s Lonoke County corn and cotton-production meeting is set for 9 a.m., Feb. 14, at Coy City Hall.