Leader Blues

Friday, September 05, 2008

TOP STORY > >Farmers worry their crops will likely be ruined

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

The rain and winds pushed north into Arkansas by Hurricane Gustav didn’t cause much in the way of problems on Lonoke County roads or for electric customers, but it may have sealed the fates of several area farmers, according to Jeff Welch, chief of the Lonoke Extension Service office.

Sheriff Jim Roberson said flooding over roads was minimal and that some people in the John Shelton Road area lost electricity temporarily, but that everyone had power now.

Welch, who was one of about 160 people who braved wet fields, mud and intermittent light rain to attend Field Day 2008 at Lonoke’s Pearlie S. Reed/Robert L. Cole Small Farm Outreach Wetlands and Water Management Center, said that until receiving several inches of rain earlier this week, farmers were poised for successful crops and prices.

“We were sitting on top of one of the better crops of soybeans, corn and rice in years,” Welch said.

“They spent the most (on crops) in history and had a good price. Now the product is reduced substantially.

“Some farmers wonder if they will be in business next year,” Welch said over a plate of fried catfish.

“This really tears them to pieces,” Welch added.

He said this was particularly hard on young farmers who incurred heavy debt to buy land and machinery. Older, established farmers like the Bransfords and the Brantleys would be less affected.

In addition to flooding fields, Gustav and tropical storm Fay before it, may have driven soybean rust spores up into Arkansas, which so far this year had no confirmed rust. Welch said it would be about another 10 days before any rust would show up.

It’s late in the season for the rust to cause the soybean crop much of a problem, but the rains this week have definitely damaged the crop, he said.

Any beans under water or in saturated fields for 24 hours will sustain damage, he said. If the plant has laid down, it’s harder to harvest too.

On top of the threat of rust and rain, the soybeans already are under pressure from worms and stinkbugs, says Welch, meaning the farmers have to spray more insecticide, then perhaps spray again after big rains.

Cotton is still in the fields and is lodging—that is being bent over where its quality suffers. It’s harder to harvest and results in a lower yield, he said.

A lot of rice is also lying over, causing similar harvest problems, Welch said.

Charlie Cummings, extension associate at the farm, said he had expected about 270 people at the biennial field day before the rain, and that Cong. Marion Berry had been slated to speak.

In Berry’s absence, Erika Krennerich, his district director, gave a congressional update.