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Rain submerging farm fields, helping pastures

An abundance of rain has turned this peanut field in Randolph County to mud and water. Note the depth of the footprints between the crop rows. (U of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture photo by Mike Andrews)
An abundance of rain has turned this peanut field in Randolph County to mud and water. Note the depth of the footprints between the crop rows. (U of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture photo by Mike Andrews)
An abundance of rain has turned farm fields in Randolph County to mud and water, and in some cases, mostly water. (U of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture photo by Mike Andrews)
An abundance of rain has turned farm fields in Randolph County to mud and water, and in some cases, mostly water. (U of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture photo by Mike Andrews)

HARRISBURG, Ark. — August should be a hot, dry month in Arkansas, accompanied by raucous cicadas songs and the thrum of diesel irrigation pumps. Waves of rain-laden storms rain have rendered the cicadas a solo act in some Arkansas counties.

“Never had a farmer wish a rain away in August, but 40 days and 40 nights sure changes your outlook fast,” Mike Hamilton, Poinsett County agriculture agent for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said Tuesday.

“We have several soybean fields showing water damage and cotton has been shedding squares and small bolls with the cloudy weather,” he said. “Diseases are also firing on all cylinders with the current conditions.”

Jackson County Extension Staff Chair Randy Chlapecka said: “We’ve had rain on 21 out of the past 30 days in Newport” with some places receiving 8 inches or more.

“The Black, White, and Cache Rivers have all reached levels that I can’t ever remember in August,” he said. With better weather, water-damaged soybeans “will begin to recover, but to what extent remains to be seen.”

Conway County has been getting reasonable amounts of rain, “but because of the heavy rains further north, we have several hundred acres of soybeans under water due to the high river level,” said Kevin Van Pelt, county agriculture agent. “One of my producers said this morning that if it rises just a few more feet they will be in a lot of trouble.”

The National Weather Service at Little Rock said heavy rain was expected to remain in the forecast through Tuesday night, with mostly sunny skies returning Thursday.

Underwater agriculture

“We have a considerable amount of fields that either have or will go completely under or close to it, where the Current and Black rivers meet,” said Mike Andrews, Randolph County extension staff chair for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. Over the weekend, Andrews tried to check on clients’ fields, but “couldn’t get that far Saturday morning because of water across a road that I didn’t want to put my truck through.”

In Prairie County, producers are bracing for a repeat of what they’d seen in 2009 and 2011.

“If the White River gauge at Des Arc does reach 20.7 Friday night, roughly 3,000 acres of soybeans will have 1 to 1.5 feet of water and a few acres of rice will be affected,” said Brent Griffin, Prairie County staff chair. He’s no stranger to high water. Griffin’s county was among the hardest hit when the White rose out of its banks, covering thousands of acres in both years.

(See satellite imagery at http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/NaturalHazards/view.php?id=40993)

“The flow on the Cache River will slow dramatically if the White River reaches 23.9 feet at Clarendon on Saturday,” Griffin said. “This will cause flooding of a few thousand acres of soybeans south of I-40 at Biscoe/Brasfield.”

Wet weather accelerates disease

Crop diseases were having a field day during the long stretch of wet weather. Soybean rust was being reported in Desha and Drew counties, said Extension Pathologist Travis Faske. Aerial blight has also been found in Clay and Lawrence County. Faske urged producers to scout fields with a history of aerial or sheath blight. Southern blight has been reported in soybeans in Faulkner County.

“We are concerned about the Arkansas River either flooding or causing Cadron Creek to back up in some fields,” said Hank Chaney, Faulkner County extension staff chair for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “Usually, the Cadron comes up quick and goes down relatively fast, but it is especially devastating on soybean if the water stands on them very long.

“Soybeans are turning pumpkin yellow and I’m sure we have stand loss in areas of the county that have gotten excessive rainfall since this watery pattern began,” he said.

“Rice is heading and I’m not sure how the rain is affecting grain fill,” Chaney said. “This cold weather being predicted is going to slow down crop development and there is a lot of rice seeded late in the state.”

Different from 2012

“What a difference one year makes,” said Keith Perkins, Lonoke County extension agent for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “Last year we were harvesting rice and corn at this point in time and we have not started this year.

“We have been able to cut a lot of hay this year and still more will be cut and we have moisture to plant for fall and winter grazing annuals,” he said.

Good weather for pastures

On the plus side, “pastures and hay fields look better than ever, just don’t know when they can cut them with the weather we are experiencing,” Hamilton said.

Sevier County Extension Staff Chair Rex Herring said pastures there were in good condition for this time of year, “but most all streams and ponds are still very low.”

On the other hand, “we’re enjoying some pond flooding in August in Searcy County,” Extension Staff Chair Skip Armes said.

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