Drought disaster declared in parts of the state even as more rain falls

by George Jared ([email protected]) 1,161 views 

A second round of rain showers soaked many parts of the Arkansas Delta on Thursday (Aug. 4), but nearly two months of severe drought prompted the U.S. Department of Agriculture to issue a drought disaster for parts of the state.

Arkansas farmers and ranchers in 20 counties and 11 neighboring counties are eligible for emergency loans under a drought disaster declaration. The deadline to apply for loans is Dec. 8.

The primary eligible counties are Arkansas, Ashley, Bradley, Calhoun, Chicot, Clark, Cleveland, Columbia, Dallas, Desha, Drew, Hempstead, Lafayette, Lincoln, Little River, Miller, Nevada, Ouachita, Sevier and Union.

Producers in contiguous counties may also qualify for loans. Those counties are Grant, Hot Spring, Howard, Jefferson, Lonoke, Monroe, Montgomery, Phillips, Pike, Polk and Prairie.

All counties in the northern and eastern parts of the state are still in the severe or moderate drought ranges, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Most of Craighead and parts of Poinsett counties are classified as abnormally dry.

Nearly all of the northern third of the state had been classified in the extreme drought category as precipitation totals plummeted 60% to 70% from average during the months of June and July. While little to no rainfall and temperatures soaring into triple digits numerous times problems were exacerbated.

A rain event that started on July 28 and ended on July 31 poured at least five inches or more of rain throughout much of the region, according to the National Weather Service. Many parts of Northeast Arkansas are expected to get more rain during the coming week, the NWS predicts.

The wet weather allowed many row crop farmers to stop costly irrigation.

“This was the million-dollar rain — you always hear farmers talk about that million-dollar rain. I think this was true for some parts of the state,” Jeremy Ross, extension soybean agronomist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture said. “This is going to tide us over.”

The additional water was needed by rice farmers trying to flood their fields.

“Overall, it was an excellent rain for the majority,” said Jarrod Hardke, rice extension agronomist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “Two to three inches was probably the more common average – which would have been perfect for many to bring rice fields to full flood and take the place of an irrigation event for other crops.”

Hardke said that those with the ability to recover and store runoff were rewarded with water they can use later.

The rain allowed growers to halt irrigation and perform any needed maintenance to the hard-driven equipment that likely saw only minimal service “as growers couldn’t afford to stop pumps for long over the past two months,” he said.

Ross said 85% of Arkansas’ soybeans are irrigated and while the lack of rain has made things tougher, the high temperatures have been the primary problem. Temperatures have delayed growth and development. Growers have reported stunted growth in crops.

“We are getting to that critical stage, getting pods and filling those pods and that’s highly dependent on moisture and nutrient availability, It looks like the rain chances will be better than they have the last couple of months,” Ross said.

Jason Kelley, extension wheat and feed grains agronomist, said the rain was much needed for the state’s corn crop.

“We had a lot of early planted corn that was at or near irrigation termination so the rain took the guesswork out of whether the corn needed another irrigation,” he said. “Our later planted corn will really benefit from this rain as some fields still have a ways to go to maturity.”

Hay and pasture fields – critical for livestock producers – started to rebound once the rains came. Despite the rains, hay fields will produce less than average and there will likely be hay shortages later this year and into next year.

“This rain had a major impact on this area,” said Jesse Taylor, Johnson County extension staff chair for the Division of Agriculture. “Several parts of the county had gotten less than an inch for over seven weeks, so it was pretty dry.”

“I still think we are going to be looking at hay shortages this winter but there is enough season left that if we continue to get moisture, we can gain some ground before winter sets in,” Taylor said. “I expect to see more winter annuals to be planted than usual to offset some of our hay shortages.”

Zach Gardner, Faulkner County extension agent, said some of his ranchers were “talking about planting summer annuals to extend the grazing season; and some were planting winter annuals for fall, winter and early spring grazing. If we get a little more rain, it will be very beneficial for those.”

John Jennings, professor and extension forage specialist, said “this rain has put all the forage options back on the table for late summer and fall pasture” including stockpiled bermuda and fescue, fertilizing bermuda for another hay cutting, planting summer annuals for fall grazing and planting winter annuals for fall/winter grazing.”

Jennings said that many pastures that were browned out “will need the rest of the summer to recover. But those that still were green should rebound quickly and produce forage in a few weeks.”

Scott Stiles, extension economist, said the rain was enough to remove the county’s burn ban. Last week, 72 of the state’s 75 counties had imposed a burn ban. By end of day Tuesday (Aug. 2), 35 counties had dropped their burn bans.

There wasn’t quite enough moisture to keep July’s rainfall totals from being lower than normal. NWS tweeted a chart showing what it called “very preliminary, very unofficial numbers” from several of its climate stations. It showed North Little Rock at 2.38 inches lower than normal rain for the month and Pine Bluff at 2.65 inches lower than normal. Little Rock and Harrison fared somewhat better, with Little Rock at 0.77 inches lower than the norm and Harrison just .14 inches lower than normal.