Sunday, September 19, 2021

As harvest begins, Arkansas growers keep eyes on tropical depression

• By Mary Hightower •

flattened rice 2020
Flattened, or lodged, rice between Crockett’s Bluff and Arkansas Highway 1 in Arkansas County. Taken Aug. 28, 2020, the day after Tropical Storm Laura came through the state — U of A System Division of Agriculture image by Phil Horton

Arkansas growers will be paying closer attention to their weather apps with development of Tropical Depression 9 and a forecast path that could bring the storm’s wind and rain to the delta by early next week.

TD9 was churning in the Caribbean southwest of Jamaica on Friday, making its appearance a year after the remnants of Hurricane Laura battered crops in Arkansas and elsewhere in the Mid-South. (See: https://bit.ly/3Didpvc). The National Hurricane Center’s “cone” forecast showed the storm was expected to gain hurricane strength as Ida by Saturday morning, make landfall in Louisiana between Sunday and Monday, then drift northward after downgrading to a depression.

“With harvest getting started, rains and storms will delay that across crops,” Jarrod Hardke, Extension rice agronomist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said on Friday.

“In rice, there’s the potential for lodging and reduced grain quality in fields ready for harvest,” he said. Lodging occurs when winds or heavy rains flatten crops, making them difficult for harvesting equipment to pick up.

“Late-planted crops are at increased disease risk with added moisture and high humidity,” Hardke said.

Same issues in corn, beans

Corn producers will face the same issues with the potential not only for lodging and harvest loss but also grain quality, said Jason Kelley, Extension wheat and feed grains agronomist for the Division of Agriculture.

“Grain sorghum growers would be worried about the grains sprouting in the seed head, especially if the rain lingers,” he said.

Lodging is also a concern for soybean producers, said Jeremy Ross, Extension soybean agronomist for the Division of Agriculture.

“We have more late planted soybean fields this year than normal, and many of these fields have several weeks before maturity. Once the soybean are lodged and tangled, disease and insect concerns will increase,” he said. There won’t be any “air flow to help reduce disease pressure. Plus, it’s difficult to fungicides and insecticides down into the canopy with lodged soybeans.

“Another concern is seed quality with lodged soybean. Higher moisture and humidity in a lodged canopy could cause seed rot and sprouting.”

Cotton’s not as far along

Cotton harvest is a little more than a month away, with only a few bolls open, said Bill Robertson, Extension cotton agronomist.

“A little bit of rain won’t hurt. This is the time we are putting our last irrigation out,” he said. “A lot of farmers are holding off on that last irrigation in anticipation of this hurricane coming.”

However, “a lot of rain and a lot of wind is going to be bad,” Robertson said.

“Right now, the plants are top-heavy. When we get the leaves all wet, it’s easy for a big windstorm to lay the cotton plants on the ground. Once the bolls hit the ground in dense canopy they are going to rot. This is what happened last year. We lost a lot to rot.

“Sometimes the plants will stand back up some, but once the fruit hits the ground, it’s gone.”

Mary Hightower is University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture communications director. She may be reached at mhightower@uaex.edu.

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