Arkansas growers play catch up during first relatively dry week

Arkansas field prep

Farmer in Lonoke County, Arkansas, preps his field for crops to be planted this spring — photo courtesy University of Arkansas

Throughout the Arkansas Delta, growers have eyed the first relatively dry week of weather since last September with cautious optimism.

Stewart Runsick, staff chair for the Clay County Cooperative Extension Service office, says many growers in his area were able to do some of the first tillage of the season — work that, in most years, would’ve been checked off the list in the winter months. In Chicot County, CES staff chair Clay Gibson saw some of the first rice in the state go into the ground Thursday.

Both agents agreed that most growers throughout the region have a lot of catching up to do.

“Last year, we had corn going into the ground on Feb. 19,” Gibson said Thursday. “This year, I didn’t have corn going into the ground until three days ago — a month late for us.”

Even rivers throughout the Delta, swollen with the previous week’s rainfall, appeared ready to let many growers have at their fields. While the National Weather Service hydrologic gauge at Osceola showed the Mississippi River at about 37.4 feet Friday morning, the NWS is predicting it will fall steadily to below flood level over the next week.

Robert Goodson, Phillips County agricultural agent, says a small number of production acres were situated behind the levee in that area, and probably wouldn’t be accessible until the middle of May.

“There are a lot of worries from producers about water in the Missouri River and snow melt,” Goodson says. “All forecasts, though, show that is not an issue — but forecast can be wrong. ‘Old-timers’ are looking for higher water — we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Effects of a wet 2018 harvest linger

Gibson says that the chaos of the 2018 harvest, in which many growers severely rutted their fields in an effort to harvest soybeans and other crops in wet conditions, left producers with larger-than-average tasks of fieldwork.

“It’s not like a normal field prep year,” he says. “There’s standing water in those ruts right now. And they’ve got to get those ruts out before they can do anything else.”

Jarrod Hardke, Extension rice agronomist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, says many acres of rice, along with other spring-planted crops, will likely be recorded as “prevented planting” acres, with growers accessing crop insurance acquired through the U.S Farm Bill.

“While there are a few areas throughout the state that have avoided a lot of this rain or are on higher ground that just dries out more quickly, a lot of folks are looking at prevented planting because it will be April before they can get into the field and early May before they have their first shot at planting. A few more bumps along the way can easily run acres into prevented planting dates,” Hardke says.

On March 21, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its 2019 Spring Outlook for flood risk, temperature and precipitation.

Although there was relatively little snowfall throughout the Delta and areas that feed into it, an unusually wet fall and winter indicates that areas surrounding the Mississippi River will likely be at moderate flood risk in April and May, with minor flood potential throughout Arkansas and the surrounding states.

Most of Arkansas is expected to experience approximately 30-40 percent more precipitation than average throughout the spring.

The University of Arkansas contributed this article.