Leader Blues

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

TOP STORY>> Rainfall helps some farmers, late for others

IN SHORT: Drought has hurt some Lonoke soybean fields, but flooded fields hurt others as farmers hope for good yields.

By John Hofheimer
Leader staff writer

“Everybody says farmers are never satisfied, and I guess that’s right,” said Dick Bransford, who along with other Lonoke County farmers, was praying for rain just two weeks ago.

“A little spell of dry would be pretty good,” he said Tuesday afternoon, even as thunder rumbled in Jacksonville. “Let roots of soybeans get a little air down to them. We’re not hurting anywhere for water right now, but that can change in a few days

“All that rain might have hurt us a little bit,” Bransford said. “Some neighbors lost quite a bit of beans,” he said.

Bransford himself has about 100 acres of soybeans damaged by the heavy rains, and he doesn’t know whether or not they will make it.

recently watered before the rains, it stunted them back.”

In contrast to Bransford and his neighbors, Jeff Welch, senior Cooperative Extension Agent for Lonoke County, said many soybean fields were hurt by drought stress, which would result in some reduced yield. “I’m hopeful that we can salvage a decent year, but it’s going to be nip and tuck,” Welch said. “There’s not very much, if any, profit in this crop.”

Bransford said sandy soils could handle the rain, but the heavy buckshot holds water much better—not a good thing when there is too much rain.

“We’ve still got a chance to make a decent crop,” he said.

SOYBEANS UP

The price of soybeans is up nearly $2 a bushel, but fuel costs have doubled, which is significant to farmers who ran irrigation pumps around the clock earlier this season.

The recent rain has been a blessing as far as saving fuel on soybeans, cotton, rice and corn irrigation, according to Welch. “It’s saving a lot of money. It’s a break on labor and time and mentally it gives the farmer time to recoup,” Welch said. “On pasture, it helped grow more forage for hay and dairy.”

“It looks like we have a good corn crop,” said Welch, who had just left Laudies Brantley’s farm near Keo. “They just terminated irrigation.”

The good news is that most fields haven’t required any irrigation since the July 5 deluge.

“Expenses are ungodly,” said Bransford. “Fertilizer is up 40 or 50 percent.

“My fuel bill for all the irrigating is tearing us up.”

FUEL SURCHARGE

His crop dusters didn’t increase their prices this year, but a 7 percent surcharge was levied to cover in-creased fuel costs.

“If my bill was $10,000, then there’s a $700 fuel-adjustment cost. And I’m sure they need it, but I can’t pass it on.”

While soybean prices are “quite attractive,” cotton and rice are still selling below the loan price, he said.

Cotton and rice

The cotton crop is looking pretty good, but Bransford and neighbor Leon Hill both have crops severely damaged by some unexplained application of the herbicide 2,4-D. Bransford could lose 36 acres and Hill about 125, he said.

The state Plant Board is investigating the source of the defoliant.

“We don’t even know what direction it came from,” he said.

He said many producers had already spent their budget on irrigation, fuel and fertilizer and have run out of money. There were no reports yet of banks refusing to make loans, but “they are going to be very frugal.”

“At the end of the year, the question will be, can the farmer hold on another year? Some may very well not,” he said.

STUNTED HAY

As the seventh largest livestock producer in the state, White County depends on hay for winter feed. But the lack of rain this summer means a poor hay crop, said Keith Martin, White County extension agent.

Compounding the imminent problem, the pastures also are dry and farmers have been forced to feed hay stored for the winter.

“When you’re feeding hay the first of July, it’s really serious because that’s when you’re supposed to be growing it,” Martin said.

Some farmers have already started their second cutting, he said. But the first cutting was down 50 percent or more in some areas, he said, so there is really no way to completely recover this year.

“Even if the later cuttings do produce more, we’re probably going to be short,” he said.

As a result, some farmers might aggressively cull their herds so they won’t need as much hay, he said. But others will likely buy hay either from out of state or in state where rainfall and therefore hay production has been heavier, he said.

Leader staff writer Joan McCoy contributed to this report.