Rain from Tropical Storm Beta further bogs down Arkansas harvest

• By Ryan McGeeney •

lodged rice greene county

Strong winds from Tropical Storm Laura on Aug. 27, 2020, flattened rice and piled some in waves in this Greene County, Arkansas, field west of Crowley’s Ridge — photo by Dave Freeze, U of A System Division of Agriculture

In the month that followed the high winds and rain that Tropical Storm Laura swept into Arkansas as the corn and rice harvests were set to commence, the state’s growers have seen stop-and-start progress at best. Now, as a week of steady rain continues to bog fields, rice and soybean growers are likely to fall further behind on their respective harvest schedules.

Tropical Storm Beta, the 23rd named storm of 2020, made landfall in east Texas the evening of Sept. 21. The system pushed intense rain into Arkansas, even as the primary storm system began heading east through Louisiana and Mississippi.

Throughout Sept. 22, all but the northeastern quarter of Arkansas saw between half an inch and more than 5 inches of rain, with the most intense activity concentrated in Miller, Little River and adjacent counties in the state’s southwest.

Daylong rains continued on Sept. 23-24, dumping an additional 5 to 6 inches in Chicot and Desha counties in the southeastern area of the state.

As of Sept. 21, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service reported that about 44% of Arkansas rice acreage had been harvested, well behind the five-year average of 63%.

Lost time

Jarrod Hardke, Extension rice agronomist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said that while Laura had made for slow going over the past month, the deficit wasn’t necessarily unmanageable.

Tropical Storm Laura “definitely caused a tremendous delay in rice harvest,” Hardke said. “Crop loss has been there, though not dramatic – the biggest loss has been more time, as lodged areas have taken much more time and effort to harvest.”

If Laura brought September to a crawl, Beta may grind early October to a halt. During the four-week period from Aug. 29 through Sept. 30, Arkansas saw an average of about 6.7 days of rain, more than 3.8 rain days above the norm.

Some areas, including Fordyce, Dardanelle, Mena, Subiaco and Waldron, saw between 11 and 16 days of rain during that period. This week has brought nearly continuous rain to many areas of the state.

Potential to affect yield quality

tropical storm beta

This image depicts the rainfall received over a 24-hour period on Sept. 23, 2020 — Image courtesy National Weather Service

Hardke warned that the ongoing wet weather may have a greater impact on the rice season than did the immediate shock of lodging.

“Prolonged saturating events such as this can cause a reduction in milling yields by increasing kernel fissures as the grain dries back out,” he said. “This can cause kernels to break in the milling process resulting in a lower value for the grain.”

Second blow to soybeans

Soybeans — the state’s No. 1 crop in terms of acreage — are also seeing slow progress. USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service reported Sept. 21 that about 12% of total acreage had been harvested, compared to the five-year average of 21% for this point in the season.

Jeremy Ross, Extension soybean agronomist for the Division of Agriculture, said that the lodging seen in some of the taller soybean plants in areas of the state, originally caused by Laura’s wind and rain, was exacerbated by the ongoing rainfall.

“I was expecting some of the soybean plants in some of these fields to straighten up, but the week of rainfall after TS Laura had moved out of the state prevented many of these plants from standing back up,” Ross said.

He said he was also aware of reports of soybean pods rotting, and of seed beginning to sprout from some of the more severely lodged fields.

“I have heard a few reports of damaged grain from fields that were ready to harvest prior to TS Laura, and these fields received several inches of rain and a week of cloudy weather after TS Laura,” Ross said. “The good news is that these reports were from just a few fields. Yield reports have been better than expected so far, but these were early planted fields.

“I’m hoping the yields continue to remain high, but I have some concern with fields that were in the later reproduction stages during the hot, dry conditions we had in the state during July and August,” he said.

Ryan McGeeney is a communications specialist with the University of Arkansas. He may be reached at rmcgeeney@uaex.edu