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Rains' toll on Arkansas crops estimated at $175M

by Stephen Steed | May 18, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

Heavy rains in late April and floods in early May cost farmers $175 million, with rice farmers being hit the hardest, according to the latest estimates by the University of Arkansas System's Agriculture Division.

One of those farmers, Malcolm Haigwood of Newport, said Wednesday that he wasn't surprised by the new number, which is up sharply from a $64.5 million estimate two weeks ago.

He and his brothers Stanley and Dennis farm about 10,000 acres. All but 1,000 acres -- on higher ground at Newark in Independence County -- was flooded. "I hate giving out numbers, but when I look around here and see equipment and structures damaged, I see about a million dollars-worth of hurt," Haigwood said.

Flooding in Arkansas

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According to the latest figures, some 977,800 acres of crops in 21 counties were affected by storms and flooding, with 361,650 acres a complete loss. The May 5 estimate put damaged crops at 937,000 acres, also with about two-thirds likely to survive.

Farmers lost 181,450 acres of rice, the most heavily planted crop at the time the rains began. The rains eventually led to widespread flooding, including along the White River at Newport, the Black River at Pocahontas and other waterways throughout northeast Arkansas.

"It's unfortunate, to put it mildly," said Jarrod Hardke, a UA rice agronomist in Stuttgart.

The $175 million figure is based on the cost of planting, the cost of replanting once farmland dries out, and yield losses from a delay in replanting. It doesn't include damage to infrastructure, such as farm shops, equipment, irrigation pumps and grain bins.

"It will take another month to determine those losses, but they will be sizable," Hardke said. "That's a very difficult thing to survey. It's one thing to drive around and get an appreciable estimate at acreage, so these numbers will evolve."

Heavy rains in August cost farmers about $50 million. Floods in 2011 cost them $335 million. A drought in 2012 caused $128 million in losses.

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Haigwood recalled floods in 1973, 1982, 2008, two in 2011, and one each in 2015 and 2016. "I remember opening presents on Christmas Day 2015 and then heading right out to empty out the grain bins," he said. "The next day, water got into them. I've lived here my whole life. They talk about big, rare hundred-year floods, but I think we've had about four of those the last six years. My math doesn't do too well, but I do think that comes out to more than every hundred years."

The UA System report said 121,800 acres of soybeans were lost. Some 40,000 acres of corn were wiped out, as were 13,000 acres of cotton. Wheat farmers lost 4,250 acres. About 1,000 acres of sorghum were lost.

The Haigwoods farm rice, soybeans and corn. Most of it is gone, but there's time to replant, Malcolm Haigwood said. Some acreage will be under water for another three weeks, he said. The Haigwoods also are among a relative handful of Arkansas farmers experimenting with "row" rice, or furrowed rice. That 150-acre experiment is dead for this season, he said.

His brother Stanley lives atop Surrounded Hill in Jackson County, well outside Newport, Malcolm Haigwood said.

"Two weeks ago, you could see why it got its name so many years ago. You could only fly in or boat in, because you were surrounded by 6 to 10 feet of water."

He said he isn't discouraged, adding that hard times remind him of lessons taught to him by his father, Shirley Isaac Haigwood, who died last year.

"One time, back in the '80s, when I was still young and enthusiastic, I was gloomy, down in the dumps, because of a flood and then a drought," Malcolm Haigwood, 59, said. "And my daddy said, 'If it [farming] was easy, everybody would be doing it,' and that if I couldn't handle the challenge, I probably should get out of the business."

A Section on 05/18/2017

Print Headline: Rains' toll on crops at $175M; Report estimates 361,650 acres lost


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