Tuesday, July 12, 2011

TOP STORY >> Farmers dry after deluge

Special to the Leader

Too much water, then not enough—that’s been the farm story in most of Lonoke County and some surrounding areas, according to Chief Lonoke County Cooperative Extension Agent Jeff Welch.

First the rains came and the rivers rose, then the water no sooner receded than dry, hot weather forced farmers to water as fast as they could, Welch said.

The National Weather Service has characterized the weather in eastern Oklahoma and southern Arkansas as a “flash drought.”

In southern Lonoke County, Dick Bransford agreed with Welch’s assessment.

First “we had water standing over the top of everything,” Bransford said. Then heat and drought.

“The biggest damage was water damage,” Welch said. “Over three or four days, we had 16 inches of rain. That put a lot of fields underwater. The low ground, not planted, was delayed about three weeks.”

Then it was right into the heat and drought and the farmers have been running long and hard, but in many respects they are still behind.

“A lot of fields had 10 or 15 percent taken out of production,” Welch said.

“It’s been tough going out there,” said Bransford. “I had a couple hundred of acres up when Crooked Creek came up for a couple of weeks and when it went down, the rice was gone and we replanted.

“I had some green beans a couple years (that made) about six tons an acre,” he said. “Last year it was three tons, this year one.

“That doesn’t pay expenses.”

“We had 540 acres of cotton and rice planted and we had to replant half. It’s going to be late and not a very good stand.”

Bransford said he got a good price for a good wheat crop, and planted the field back in soybeans.

He also planted cotton behind wheat. “I’ve never done that before.”

But floods and heat aren’t the only problems the farmers are facing.

“We’ve got pigweed four inches high and can’t kill it,” Bransford said. “It’s a major, major problem. It’s resistant to nearly all the herbicides. Roundup acts like fertilizer for it.”

He said a herbicide used on corn has a chemical that will kill out the pigweed, and rice also gets rid of it pretty well.

“We’ll still have a decent crop on corn,” Welch said. “Soybeans are coming along, but there’s a real problem planting beans behind wheat. It’s hard to get a stand with the top dry.”

Among the 1 percent still planting soybeans were growers in Lonoke County, said Keith Perkins, extension agent there for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.

“Producers are cleaning up rice and soybean fields and some are discovering that the pigweed in their soybean fields are glyphophate resistant and their pre-emerge herbicides did not get activated due to dry conditions after application,” Perkins said. “A lot of rice fields have received mid-season nitrogen applications and some sheath blight is beginning to show up.”

“On cotton, we’re in decent shape,” Welch said, but earworms are a big problem, “even with BT,” a natural pesticide. He said the earworm pressure is on both cotton and soybeans. “We’re spraying for that. It’s continuing to build.”

Welch said he checked the data, and the prevalence of moths trapped (to track worm infestation) is the highest it’s been in at least four years.

“The egg lay is 80 percent viable as far as producing small worms.”

Welch said the heat and dryness affect fungi that serve as a natural deterrent to the insects.

Still, “we’re optimistic. We have high prices. The farmers keep working and working.”

The crop report issued July 5 found 88 percent of corn at silk stage, 28 percent at dough and 5 percent at dent. Cotton was 83 percent squared and 12 percent setting bolls. Rice was 2 percent headed and sorghum was 43 percent headed.

Soybeans were 99 percent planted, 93 percent emerged, 22 percent in bloom and 5 percent setting pods. The state’s winter wheat harvest was reported complete compared with 98 percent the previous week.