Heavy rains during the last two weeks could significantly impact the row crop harvest in Northeast Arkansas, experts say. At least 14 inches of rain fell in parts of the region, and many rivers have swelled outside their banks and numerous fields are flooded, according to the National Weather Service.
Flooded fields are an issue, but there are other, pressing problems that could develop if the region doesn’t dry out, Craighead County Extension Agent Branon Thiesse told Talk Business & Politics. Late season seed germination could impact the quality of corn, rice, and soybean crops, he said.
“It’s an issue … some of our farmers are in peril right now,” Thiesse said.
When water blankets fields, seeds that have matured into harvestable crops germinate. This “seed sprouting from the head” can drive down usable quantities of the crop. Farmers often save seed to be used to grow crops the next year, and if it germinates in the field, it can cause those seeds to not sprout the next year, Thiesse said.
Corn is probably the crop most directly affected by germination, he said. Most corn fields in the region are ready to be harvested, and that means the crops are mature, he said. Soybean and rice crops could still be in danger, however, he said.
Counties south of Craighead County had a relatively drier spring meaning farmers there were able to plant their crops earlier. Those crops are more susceptible to germination, Thiesse said. He’s read some reports that crops in counties, such as Prairie County, have been severely damaged by the onslaught of rain.
Fields along the region’s rivers and creeks have been flooded, and whole fields could be lost, he said. Cotton crops appear to be relatively unaffected, he said. There have been some targeted spots where disease in cotton fields has been an issue, but those problems have been dealt with, he said.
The situation in Lawrence County is bleaker. At least 8,000 row crop acres have been completely destroyed in the Black River bottoms, and others that abut rivers in the county, Rep. James Ratliff, D-Imboden, told Talk Business & Politics. Another 17,000 acres in the county have been damaged, and could be lost, he said.
“We could lose much of our soybean crop,” Ratliff said. “This has the potential to put some farmers out of business.”
Ratliff represents District 60, which includes Lawrence County and parts of Greene and Independence counties.
Nearly every farmer has some form of crop insurance, but when this many acres are damaged it doesn’t cover enough, Ratliff said. Most insurance programs cover 75% of the crops lost, and 25% of that goes to the farmland owner, he said. That means 50% is left over for the farmer. If that farmer planted soybeans, and they sell for $8 per bushel, that means, essentially, the farmer is making $4 per bushel on 75% of their crop, Ratliff said.
“No farmer can afford to plant crops at that rate,” he said.
Loans are available for some farmers to recoup their losses. Ratliff thinks the federal government should declare parts of Northeast Arkansas a disaster area, just like parts of Louisiana are likely to be declared disaster areas. The farm bill, as presently constituted, doesn’t have any mechanism other than the president declaring a disaster, to allow for federal assistance for farmers in times of calamity, Ratliff said.
“That is something that I think needs to change,” he said.