Leader Blues

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

TOP STORY >> Drought worries farmers

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

Soybean rust spores already have been found in the southern United States and in Texas, which is not good news for Arkansas producers, according to Jeff Welch, Lonoke County Cooperative Extension service agent.

Last year’s drought conditions in the state prevented rust from getting a hold here, said Welch, but those same dry conditions had farmers burning lots of expensive fuel to pump irrigation water overtime from an already-depleted aquifer. Welch said current dry conditions could hint at a repeat, which could spell disaster for some producers.

A second consecutive year of diminishing returns could cause the banks to call loans or to refuse to extend additional credit to get next year’s crop in the ground, he said.

“We had a pretty good year as far as yield,” Welch said. “The problem was the costs were substantially above normal because of the costs of fuel, fertilizer, labor and interest, negating good yields.”

“It’s pretty close to economic disaster even with decent yields. It takes a lot more yield now just to break even,” he added.
Welch said between seven and 10 Lonoke County farmers went out of business last year, but other farmers absorbed their crops.

“Last year we had to irrigate crops just to get them up,” said Welch Thursday. “We may have to flush rice up. It’s really dry out there.”

Welch said the soybean producers haven’t had to irrigate yet, but they will unless there is some significant rainfall within the next 10 days.

In addition to early beans and rice, producers are starting to plant cotton. If it’s too dry, the cotton will have to be irrigated to germinate and get up out of the ground. Three conditions are necessary for rust to take hold, said Welch. Farmers need susceptible plants, a favorable environment and the presence of rust spores.

“Our winds are from the southwest, and that’s where Texas is, he said.