Irrigation methodology critical for fall harvest in Arkansas Delta

by George Jared ([email protected]) 1,119 views 

Rain is in the forecast for nearly all of the Arkansas Delta through the weekend, but months of drought have left farmers with dangerously parched fields and crops that are still in peril.

Even after the rains come, hotter than average temperatures are predicted to resume and many farmers will have to turn to irrigation as the harvest season looms for many row crops.

Chris Henry, a professor and water management engineer for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture has one message for farmers – don’t get in a hurry. He suggests a variety of tactics aimed at helping farmers get the most crop they can with what irrigation is available.

“The next 30 days will be critical for many irrigators, as fatigue sets in, and many crops are still at or entering high water demand,” Henry said. “However, there are things that farmers can do to mitigate both the human and plant stress being experienced.”

Arkansas has experienced a broken string of days with highs in the triple digits, with rain in short supply. The U.S. Drought Monitor indicates that all of Arkansas is experiencing some form of drought. The Climate Prediction Center’s extended outlook showed most of Arkansas with temperatures well above normal. However, the CPC’s precipitation outlook was more promising, with the northern two-thirds of the state possibly seeing above-average amounts.

The depletion of water availability in soils causes significant declines in crops and livestock productivity, according to the National Integrated Drought Information System. Surface and groundwater supplies may decline during drought, affecting water availability and increasing costs to access water for crop or forage irrigation and watering livestock.

Higher temperatures and lack of rain water can reduce yields significantly in some crops, and cause some farmers to abandon fields or sell-off livestock to stem losses. Many diseases and insects thrive in drought conditions accelerating even more losses.

The National Weather Service predicts that many parts of the Arkansas Delta will receive rain Thursday (July 28) through Sunday (July 31). More than an inch of rain could fall in some areas and temperatures are expected to drop into the low 80s for highs throughout the weekend.

Temperatures are projected to rise once again as the first week of August begins. Maintaining irrigation equipment during the heat is critical, Henry said.

“For diesel power units, oil changes and greasing propeller shafts may seem obvious, but changing the oil in the gear head is often overlooked,” he said.

He also urged farmers with electric motors to be sure to use both the correct lubrication and amount.

“If the oil in the sight window is black or white, there is a high risk of bearing failure. Heat stress and heat exhaustion awareness are real threats to safely sustaining irrigation, keep ample water to employees and yourself and don’t get in a hurry, it may take more time to do things safely,” Henry said.