Leader Blues

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

TOP STORY >> Relief planned for area farmers

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

About 75 Lonoke County farmers whose crops were damaged or destroyed by hail and high winds June 30 met with experts Monday to formulate strategies for their ravaged fields and to learn about efforts for a disaster declaration and low-cost loans.

The storm damaged about 26,000 acres in Lonoke County in a four-mile-wide swath stretching from near Furlow for 10.5 miles to Carlisle, according to Jeff Welch, county extension agent.

The mood among affected farmers in general has been pretty somber, Welch said, and subsequent inspections of fields have shown damage to be greater than originally thought.

Extension specialists in the fields of corn and feed grains, rice, soybeans and wheat met with farmers, representatives of Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Sen. Mark Pryor, and representatives of the Farm Service Agency in Scott at Mitchell’s farm shop on state Hwy. 31, the epicenter of the damage.

Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman told farmers that the county would ask the governor to declare it a disaster area through the office of Jimmy DePriest, who serves as Lonoke County Emergency Services director.

The Lonoke Farm Service Agency met Thursday and has since submitted its report to the state office, which will forward it to Gov. Mike Beebe and then on to Washington in hopes of getting a disaster declaration.

“We’re saying based on past experience, we’re assuming a disaster declaration,” said Mark Petty, FSA farm loan manager.

That designation is required if farmers are to qualify for low-interest USDA loans, which would be available after the end of the calendar year, Petty said.

“We discussed what we had seen in the fields and how they expect the crop to mature with the damage,” Welch said.

“We talked about replanting decisions on soybeans. It’s too late for rice,” he added.

Legally, damaged corn fields can’t be replanted in other crops because of a weed-control herbicide used in virtually all those fields, according to Welch.

Damaged rice or soybean fields can be turned under and replanted in soybeans, but farmers need to hurry, because for every day they are planted after July 1, the yield decreases 2 to 4 percent, he said.

That reality includes the fact that there is little tolerance for mistake or misjudgment at this point.

Welch suggested that to avoid problems farmers should “make sure the water is there on time, that plants are not drought-stressed, controlling the weeds on time, fertilizing on time to make sure that the stresses don’t mount up.

“We’ll make sure they have research-based information,” said Welch. “We’re in the fields. On corn, we’re researching the percent of defoliation and maturity. We’re sampling fields.

“The bottom line, you just have to face reality and go forward the best way you can,” Welch said.