Row crop farmers across Arkansas trying to complete the 2014 harvest are being pushed into a waiting game as they deal with storm systems that are leaving behind muddy fields and rain-soaked crops.
"We're vulnerable from the bottom part of the state to the top part of the state," said Bill Robertson, an extension cotton agronomist with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. "I think any field right now that has cotton still in it, I'll bet you could go out there and find some cotton on the ground."
As of Oct. 5, about 8 percent of the state's cotton acreage had been harvested, running behind a five-year average harvest of 27 percent for that time of year, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. The service said that as of that date, 76 percent of the state's rice crop had been harvested, along with 43 percent of the state's soybeans.
Given the rains that kept crops wet and fields muddy, that harvest percentage for cotton hasn't changed much over the past week, Robertson said Monday.
"If the rain keeps coming in, our window for harvest is weak. As soon as the cotton dries, we'll put pickers in the field, and we'll just start mudding it out," Robertson said.
A week ago, a violent line of storms that included golf ball-sized hail damaged about 24,000 acres of cotton in Craighead and Mississippi counties.
While some individual farmers sustained "tragic" losses from those storms, Robertson said the overall effect statewide likely will rein in this year's cotton harvest from "great" to "average" in terms of yields.
The statistics service estimated in a report released Friday that Arkansas' statewide average cotton yield would be 1,122 pounds per acre, down 11 pounds from 2013. Growers are expected to harvest cotton from about 325,000 acres.
Robertson said that once the weather clears, it could take three or four days for both the cotton and fields to dry out enough for mechanized pickers to work the fields.
A line of storms dumped up to ¾-inch of rain and scattered hail on the state a week ago. A second line of storms pushed through Thursday and Friday that produced heavy rains in the northern and southern counties, according to the National Weather Service. A cold front pushing through the state Monday produced showers and thunderstorms, and a chance of rain was forecast for today.
Jeremy Ross, soybean agronomist for the UA Agriculture Division, agreed that farmers are waiting for fields to dry out so they can get back to the harvest.
Ross said the wet weather overall hasn't done too much damage to soybean acreage, aside from minor pockets of damage, including around Stuttgart and in Craighead County east of Jonesboro.
"With the weather event that went through a week ago, there was some acreage that went down that was ready to harvest," Ross said. However, the rain and resulting wet fields has had an impact. "We probably didn't get a whole lot done last week on harvest," he said.
Now, growers must wait for fields to dry out to avoid damaging them. "A lot of guys don't want to rut up fields because if you start rutting up fields, you've got to do a lot more land prep for next year."
Ross said growers typically complete their soybean harvest from mid-October through mid-November. He said with the weather supposed to be in the upper 70s by weekend, "Hopefully, we can get these fields dried up so we can go ahead and continue harvesting and try to get out as much as we can."
Rice agronomist Jarrod Hardke with the UA Agriculture Division, said that while some progress was made last week, about 20 percent of the state's rice -- mostly in northeast counties -- is still awaiting harvest.
Hardke said storms over the past week left rice fields in fairly good shape. But he said continued rain and wind raises the risk of "lodging," the term used to describe plants being knocked to the ground. Lodging increases both the time and difficulty of harvesting rice, compared to standing crops.
"A driving rain and wind is going to start the lodging process," he said. While a rice field might get through a storm with minor spots of lodging, repeated storms can lay flat entire fields.
For corn growers, the span of bad weather struck mostly after the crop had been harvested, said Jason Kelley, a corn agronomist for the UA Agriculture Division.
"We're about done. There might be a few fields left, but it's mostly in," Kelley said. "Right now, we're estimated to be at record yields" -- at around 188 bushels per acre.
Arkansas farmers planted less corn this year, about 560,000 acres, partly in anticipation of lower commodity prices compared to other crops.
In the production report released Friday, the service estimated that Arkansas' farmers will harvest 3.3 million acres of soybeans this year and potentially could set a record yield mark of 47 bushels per acre. Rice growers are expected to harvest nearly 1.5 million acres, with an average yield of 7,530 pounds per acre, down 30 pounds from last year's record.
Ross said there's still a good chance the state will set a new per acre yield mark for soybeans, since three growers have already produced plots that averaged more than 100 bushels per acre and several others have harvested 80- to 90-bushels per acre.
"If everything kind of holds together, we'll more than likely be able to meet that yield goal."
Robertson said that across the state, large numbers of cotton fields are ready for harvest once they dry out. Until then, however, the crop is still very susceptible to weather damage.
"Some of our cotton, like in Mississippi and Craighead counties, is just barely hanging on by a few threads," he said. "It just doesn't take much rain, it just doesn't take much wind for additional cotton to fall to the ground."
Business on 10/14/2014