story by Ryan Saylor
Arkansas may have just had its coldest July on record, according to an Aug. 12 report from NOAA's National Climatic Data Center, but it does not mean the state is suffering agriculturally.
According to Jay Carter, chief executive officer of Farmer's Co-op in Northwest Arkansas and the Fort Smith region, crops have done well with the unseasonably cooler and wetter summer.
"Actually, from a row crop standpoint — wheat, beans and corn — we've had a great wheat harvest and they just started harvesting corn in Texas and maybe up here this week. The initial indications are for a very good corn crop. Beans won't harvest until the first of the year, but right now they look terrific. So from row crops, it's been a good year."
With crops fairing so well due to the temporary change in weather patterns — Arkansas typically averages a hot and dry July versus the cool and wet that has been the norm this year — prices should be good for consumers since the supply is so strong.
"If you look at prices from here to two years ago, we're at about half (of where we had been). So obviously from a consumer standpoint, that's positive. Not the best for the grain guys, but from a consumer standpoint we've seen some softening," Carter said.
With the transition to fall and winter, he said the biggest concern for the bean crops being prepared for harvest early next year is the possibly of a colder and wetter winter than average. The Farmer's Almanac has listed Arkansas in the "brisk and wet" category in its 2015 edition.
"Freezing and ice would be the big thing," Carter explained. "I think the big thing would be just destroying the plants, getting ice on them and laying the plants down. Generally, we have mild falls and winters. It could have a detrimental effect on the beans. But we'll hope for the best."
And with corn and wheat looking strong, he said it is hard to complain.
"Two out of three … we're sitting good."
Carter said while there is a lot of talk about large commercial farm operations and how the weather impacts those operations, he said the weather has also had an impact on the everyday gardner. He said even with a delay to the start of the typical spring growing season, home gardeners have done well.
"This year, from a garden standpoint, we were 30 days late due to a cool spring. We saw it in our business," he said, adding that despite the late start to planting season many people stuck with the staples of home gardens.
"As far as what people planted and didn't plant, there was not much of a shift. We probably saw more tomatoes due to the cooler and wetter summer than we normally see," Carter explained. "But there wasn't much anticipation. Even though it was later, I don't know that we'd necessarily see a shift in what the backyard gardeners were going to plant. Everyone has their favorites."
As for getting ready for the fall and winter, Carter said now is the time to prepare plants that thrive in cold environments for planting during this first week of September.
But he said plants that either do not harvest until late in the year or are still producing due to the cooler and wetter weather, like tomatoes, could experience a quick death if home gardeners are not careful and observant of changes in the weather.
"The first frost is (typically) not until mid-November, but we anticipate we may get an early frost this year. I don't want to discourage folks, but they may need to cover them a little sooner."
Carter said the home gardener does not only have food-producing plants to consider for the fall and winter, but he said flowers could receive some focus, as well. He specifically pointed to bulbs as flowers that can be planted during the winter for a spring bloom.
Other cool-weather growers include potatoes, and some types of onions and cabbages, he said.
The only real downside to any of the unseasonable weather, Carter said, is once winter sets in and much of the area's fresh food begins having to be shipped in from other regions such as California, consumers could see a winter to spring price hike.
"Farmer's markets have been great and a lot of produce is sold and the majority are local growers. But once that season is done, we're more dependent on other parts of the country and obviously, dry and hot out west will affect prices as we go into the fall and winter months. The good news is it has been a good summer for us."