Tuesday, July 16, 2013

TOP STORY >> Drought hurting farmers

Leader senior staff writer

“We’re in the middle of a drought,” said Lonoke County Extension Agent Jeff Welch.

Scattered showers in the county dropped as much as an inch in some areas over the weekend, but farmers have started irrigating and barring significant rainfall. They are committed until the end of the growing season.

“It’s more-than-normal dry, increasing the cost of irrigation substantially,” Welch said Monday. “We’re hoping we’re not in a weather pattern (like) last year’s.”

Welch noted that parts of the county have gotten a bit of precipitation this week — up to three-quarters of an inch around Cabot.

He said farmers should be planting soybeans after wheat right now, but that it is too dry for the seed to germinate.

“Farmers will plant later than normal because it will be profitable, but they are facing a reduced yield and the high cost of running irrigation pumps,” Welche explained.

“We’re not set up for an excellent or a very good crop, but a good crop under current prices,” he added.

He said the wheat crop was “really good, with some fields doing 40 to 50 bushels per acre, with many getting 70 to 80 bushels per acre and even 90.

“Corn has silked,” he said. “The silks are turning purple, meaning they’re pollinated. The earlier you plant corn, the better off you are.”

A lot of soybeans were planted in late May, but the yield probably won’t be as good as usual, Welch said.

Given the choice of planting cotton, a very labor-intensive crop, or corn, which has a good price, Lonoke County farmers are down to about 2,600 cotton acres this year.

“It’s the end of an era,” Welch said of cotton production, “and for a lot of farmers, it’s good riddance.

It’s a tough crop requiring a high degree of management.”

Lonoke County no longer has any cotton gins. Cotton must be hauled to Marianna or McGehee.

One positive side effect of the drought-like conditions is that neither corn nor soybean rust have hit the state.

“Under warm to hot, clear days, it doesn’t move or survive,” he said. The ultra-violet rays of the sun destroy it.

Blister beetles are after the soybeans this year, defoliating parts of some fields.