Fast-paced planting may turn into replanting for Arkansas growers

Arkansas row crop farmers who awoke Sunday to lakes where their newly planted fields had been will be enduring a nail-biting week to see how fast the water recedes and how much new rain might fall Wednesday, while bracing for the avalanche of water heading toward the Gulf of Mexico from the north.

Greene County, Ark., flooding

Where once stood a rice field now is a lake due to heavy rains over the weekend in Greene County, Ark. This had been an N-STaR fertility trial—photos courtesy University of Arkansas

By Mary Hightower
University of Arkansas
System Division of Agriculture

During the weekend, Extension agents and faculty with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture used social media to show the power of the Friday-Sunday storm system. There were full rain gauges, highways that looked like muddy rivers and fields whose fledgling crops were buried by water.

The National Weather Service at Little Rock reported that 24-hour totals through 7 a.m. Sunday included “a whopping 8.50 inches at Savoy (Washington County), 7.85 inches at Guy (Faulkner County), and 7.82 inches at Georgetown (White County).”

More rain is expected Wednesday and Thursday, with amounts ranging from 0.5 to 1.5 inches, the weather service said Sunday night.

Heavy rain in Missouri and along the Ohio River Valley is expected to cause more flooding as it drains along various tributaries of the Mississippi River. Flooding along the Black River at Pocahontas was forecast to rise to record levels by Friday.

Getting to the field

flooded rice fields

This Northeast Arkansas rice field was far enough along that it even had spills. But weekend rains that dumped more than 6 inches over large expanses caused flooding.

“The biggest problem right now is even getting out to survey damage,” Chuck Capps, Desha County extension staff chair for the Division of Agriculture, said on Sunday. “Trees are down over flooded-out roads; then turn rows and even some county gravel roads are too wet to even get ATV’s on.”

High winds blew away irrigation well sheds near McGehee, Capps said.

Jackson County Extension Agent Matthew Davis said some fields may have to be replanted.

“At the current rate of water, I would assume all the land acreage on Arkansas 14 that runs along White River towards Oil Trough will have to be replanted if water doesn’t get off quickly,” he said. “In some areas in 2011, the water got to 6 feet deep down there.”

“I’d say we could have 20-30 percent of our planted acreage that could need to be replanted if water stays on too long,” he said.

Statewide, rice growers had planted 89 percent of their fields this year by the end of April compared with 45 percent during the last big flood in 2011. In its March 31 Planting Intentions report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture had forecast Arkansas growers would plant nearly 1.2 million rice acres this season.

It’s a painful prospect in a spring that saw Arkansas farmers putting seed into the ground at rates much higher than the five-year averages for some crops.

“Some producers erred on the side of caution and didn’t have any of their (river) bottom ground planted,” Davis said. “But along the White River basin, there was a lot of acreage planted.”

rain gaugeDavis said the wet and overcast conditions could also produce an uptick in yield-robbing diseases even if the crop does survive the flood.

“Typically, most crops can handle 12 to 24 hours of standing water,” said Keith Perkins, Lonoke County extension staff chair for the Division of Agriculture. “However, I am not sure how long water is going to stand on some fields. All we can do is evaluate the stands once the water recedes.”

Perkins said famers “shouldn’t be in a hurry to make any rash decisions. We are still early enough to replant and not suffer any yield loss on replants.”

In several counties, rain and flooding has eroded or destroyed levees, washing out rice fields.

Jarod Hardke, Extension rice agronomist for the Division of Agriculture said if more flood waters descend on Arkansas from Missouri and the Ohio Valley, “I believe it’s possible we could lose up to 100,000 rice acres in the state from this event.  We will then see what happens with replants and whether any goes back to rice.”

“Many acres will survive that have gone under, but there are too many environmental factors in play to say for certain now,” he said. “And complete levee loss in many fields will risk loss due to washing and inability to manage.”

Hardke also warned that “problems are about to arise over new crop insurance policy provisions about ‘practical to replant.’”

Hardke was posting information about insurance at http://Arkansascrops.com.

Read more about about rice crop insurance for Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee by downloading the Risk Management Agency’s fact sheet.