Historic flooding destroys thousands of rice acres in the Mid-South

• By Josh Hankins •

Additional reporting by Lydia Holmes, Steve Linscombe, Kane Webb and Emily Woodall.

aerial view of flooding in southeast arkansas
An aerial view of flooding in Southeast Arkansas — photo by Jim Whitaker

As the floodwaters from recent rainstorms in Southeastern Arkansas to recede, damage from the weather is still being assessed, though it is feared the areas affected will be much greater than originally estimated. Most folks will tell you they have not seen rain or flooding or damage of this magnitude in 50 years.

Last week, U.S. Sen. John Boozman visited the affected areas of Arkansas, starting in Humnoke and moving south. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson issued a statewide emergency declaration on June 10.

And Boozman said the governor will formally request a secretarial disaster designation through the U.S. Department of Agriculture that would jumpstart congressional action. The senator and his staff also are working with the Farm Services Agency and its local offices to explore every opportunity for aid through existing programs.

Jim Whitaker, who farms in Desha County, reported that they are still waiting for the waters to recede. While the heaviest of the rain was to the north of their operation, the water began draining and moving south which put some of their early planted rice four to five feet underwater.

“We’re losing acres every day in our area…with some producers experiencing at least 25 percent loss, all the way up to 100% loss,” Whitaker said. “A few of the higher elevation fields are looking OK, but most of our fields have had water on them for 11 days. In addition to the flood water, last week was a hot week here and a layer of scum formed on top of the water. As the water recedes, that scum is laying down our rice. We’re expecting that the corn and soybeans that went underwater will be 100 percent loss.”

While it is still too wet for Whitaker and his team to get out in the fields, some fields in central Arkansas have dried down enough for producers to attempt to replant.

Robb Dedman, an independent crop consultant in Rison, said the water in his area is finally starting to go down.

“What’s left behind is damage, a lot of it, with some of our producers possibly losing 100% of their crop.”

According to Frank Howell, CEO of the Delta Council in Mississippi, water is finally receding in most places in that state.

“We were fortunate to miss the tropical storm. Our emergency management officials, governor, and Mississippi State University experts are assessing the extent of the damages right now. There is no mistaking that hundreds of thousands of acres have been destroyed or negatively impacted, and the hardest hit areas are major rice producing counties in the Mississippi Delta.”

“Northeast Louisiana has also seen some flooding, particularly in Morehouse parish”, said Marley Oldham, general manager at Kennedy Rice Mill in Mer Rouge, Louisiana. “While the extent of devastation may not be as widespread as our neighbors in Arkansas are experiencing, significant acres of this year’s rice crop, along with corn and soybeans, are going to be lost due to the heavy rains and back flooding from rivers and bayous.”

In Arkansas, where most of the destruction occurred, no official estimate of the crop damage has been released.

This article originally appeared in USA Rice’s “The Daily.”


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