Leader Blues

Monday, November 23, 2009

TOP STORY >> Farmers get needed break in weather

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Just when it seemed Lonoke farmers were staring into the abyss — and a flooded abyss at that — they got nearly two consecutive weeks of sunshine and warm weather.

That was enough to dry out most of the fields and let the farmers in to harvest the remaining soybeans and rice, according to Lonoke extension agent Jeff Welch.

“Most of the crop is out of the field now,” Welch said.

Despite a little rain overnight last weekend, he said he believed they could get back out to harvest the remaining crops or to plant winter wheat before it was too late.

“At this point, we’re putting on the finishing touches on the soy,” he said. “We need two or three more good days.

“We do have damage on soybeans,” Welch said, with between 5 percent and 20 percent loss from mold. Buyers will dock the producers depending on the percentage of the crop with moldy beans.

That’s why it’s known as “dockage.”

He said most fields had between 5 percent and 11 percent damage.

“The fungus comes in when seed is almost ready for harvest, then prolonged wet weather sets in,” he said.

“We have a decent rice crop this year,” he said. “With these prices we’re okay.”

He said he was concerned about the southeast part of the county, around Humnoke and Carlisle.

“A lot of fields there flooded with crops in them,” according to Welch. “They can have complete destruction with water on top of them. It’s starting to go down. Also in Prairie County, around the White River.

“We’re going to have some farmers in trouble in southeast Lonoke County,” Welch said.

When farmers leave farming, the land doesn’t generally go out of production, Welch said. Another farmer buys or leases the land. But most farmers are senior citizens now and “at some point there will not be enough farmers left to farm the ground. They will take the best land they can and farm that.”

Welch said there was “a lot of torn-up acres” in Lonoke County from farmers who rushed in to harvest their crops when the rain stopped, but before the fields had dried.

“We’re seeing some wheat planted,” he said. “It’s a little past optimal, but still possible. We don’t have a big wheat crop. Two years ago we had about 42,000 acres of wheat. Last year it was about 12,000 and likely that much this year as well.”

He said that part of the question was whether or not farmers had time after a late, rain-delayed soybean harvest to get their wheat in the ground before it was too late.

Welch said it was still too early to know if farmers would return to cotton farming next season “If the price would go up,” he said. “But we’re in a recession. The crop that gets hurt the worst in a recession is cotton. You can’t eat cotton and people can delay buying new clothes until better times.