Saturday, July 14, 2012

TOP STORY>>Crops surviving, but profits drop

Leader senior staff writer

Despite a six-week long drought, most area farmers aren’t having trouble making a crop, but they expect trouble making a profit.

“Everything’s planted and up and looks good,” said Dick Bransford, one of the last farmers growing cotton in his area, but “it’s costing an arm and a leg for fuel,” Bransford said.

“We’re running 17 t0 20 wells and don’t hardly shut them down. And fertilizer went double this year,” he said. “Not because of high oil prices, but because they can.”

Bransford said last year, fertilizer was $400 a ton, but because of the warm winter and spring, farmers planted early this year and the suppliers were caught off guard.

So his fertilizer cost $800 a ton, though some producers got it for $700 and even $600 a ton a little later on.


“We’re all hit hard, but so far everybody’s surviving,” he said. “We don’t know about next year, especially with the new farm bill coming in.”

Bransford, who farms with his son, Rick, in the Pettus area, says one of his wells has gone dry. He’s pumping both out of the ground and using relift stations to pump water from on-farm reservoirs.

The Bransfords have about 450 acres in cotton this year, and they’re planting soybeans behind the just-harvested wheat. They have about 500 acres in rice, 300 acres in corn andthe balance in soybeans. “We’re not hurting on price, but expenses are eating us up,” he said.

While there have been occasional showers in Arkansas the past few days, Bransford said he and his neighbors received “absolutely zero” precipitation.

He hasn’t seen rain since about the first of June.

Eventually, his acreage is among 300,000 acres that will be irrigated from the Arkansas River thanks to the $614 million Bayou Meto Basin Water Management Project.

The first water moved by gigantic pumps near Scott will take 1,750 cu. ft. of water per second from the river—that’s sufficient to fill 40 in-ground, back-yard swimming pools a minute.

The first of that water should be available in time for the 2013 growing season. It’s been 19 years getting to us,” Bransford said, and
Gov. Mike Beebe, with support of the Arkansas delegation, requested and has received a drought disaster declaration for 69 Arkansas counties, making farmers and ranchers eligible for financial assistance to help them recover from drought-related losses this year.


Over at Holland Bottom Farms, Larry Odom, who works some soybeans and sweet potatoes near Cabot says he’s been busy keeping his fruits and vegetables watered.

Strawberries are the biggest part of Odom’s farm income and they, along with his peach trees are drip irrigated.

The strawberry season is over, but the “the peaches are stressed some. It runs us ragged trying to keep up with everything, applying fungicide, pesticide, watering, running to market—we’re putting in a lot of hours.

He says the cloudy days and relatively cool — in the nineties — temperatures of the last few days have brought a little relief to the string of unforgiving 100-degree-plus days. His farm received about 0.2 in. of rain this week, which isn’t much help.


“We keep on hoping for a big one,” he said, “hoping that somewhere we’ll get a pretty good shower.”

Otherwise, “at some point we have to decide what to keep.”

Part of the soybean fields may be let go if he can’t get some rain to help refill his 70 acres of reservoir, which he fills from a nearby creek in the rainy season.

“We could set the pasture afire,” he said. “Anything on the farm will burn except the dirt.”

His neighbors need rain for the cattle. They already are using their stock of feed hay they put up earlier in the year for next winter.