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Rain hurting rice, corn crops in state

by Stephen Steed | August 18, 2016 at 5:45 a.m.

Heavy rains over the past five days have damaged rice and corn crops across the state, but cotton and soybeans are holding up, farmers and cooperative extension officials said Wednesday.

Farmers were just starting to harvest rice and corn as rain moved into the state last week. Intermittent rain, both day and night, since then has made things worse, with some farmers in northeast Arkansas starting to report some flooding, said Jarrod Hardke, a rice agronomist with the University of Arkansas System's Division of Agriculture.

Farmers and extension agents in Randolph, Lawrence and Clay counties reported receiving the most rain and damage, but the extent of that damage won't be known until more farmers are able to get out into their fields, Hardke said. If farmers can't get into the fields just to check crops, they also won't be sending in heavy combines for harvesting.

About 2 percent of rice in Arkansas -- the nation's top rice producer -- has been harvested, considered normal for this time of year, and 97 percent has "headed," or become ready for harvest, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's statistics service said this week.

The National Weather Service said 2 to 4 inches of rain fell across the state over the weekend alone. The southern two-thirds of the state is forecast to get from 1 to 3 inches of rain the rest of the week.

Rice and other grains that begin sprouting prematurely can still be harvested but will have to be dried to be acceptable for grain elevators. That grain is less desirable at market, resulting in lower prices, Hardke said.

Further damage will be done if there are any high winds, causing wet, top-heavy crops to "lodge," or collapse. Harvesting collapsed fields is especially difficult, he said.

A long stretch of rainfall late in the harvest season of 2009 caused nearly $400 million in crop losses, with cotton and soybeans being especially hard hit, the UA agriculture extension service said.

Grain sorghum also is suffering heavy damage, Hardke said. That damage will be lessened somewhat because farmers planted only 40,000 acres of grain sorghum compared to 450,000 acres last year. The falloff was attributed to lower demand in China.

"For rice, it just seems like this always happens just as you're ready to put the combine in the field," Bill Robertson, a cotton expert for the extension service, said Wednesday. "But for cotton, it's not that far enough along yet to be hurt. Most bolls are not opening yet."

Arkansas farmers planted some 370,000 acres of cotton this year, compared to 210,000 last year. The increase, Robertson said, came out because early prices were high for cotton and low for soybeans and corn at spring planting.

"If it clears up and we get some really good weather, we have the potential for a really good crop," Robertson said. "The plant is working really hard right now to produce and we need the sunny weather, but not the 100-degree days. Ninety degrees will be just fine."

Randall Foran, a farmer in Marvell (Phillips County), said his soybeans are doing fine, but he's worried about his 450 acres of corn. He planted just 100 acres of corn last year. "The corn is starting to sprout at the ears and is wanting to rot," Foran said "That's not a good thing. We need the rain to quit and the sunshine to come out."

Business on 08/18/2016

Print Headline: Rain hurting rice, corn crops in state

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