East Arkansas growers hoping to take the next step toward coping with the 2017 growing season — assessing damage and the feasibility of replanting — will likely have another week’s wait ahead of them at the least, experts with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s Cooperative Extension Service said this week.
In some of the worst-hit counties suffering the effects of heavy rains and severe flooding in early and mid-May, including Poinsett, Craighead and Jackson counties, thousands or tens of thousands of acres of cropland is still submerged under standing water, even as more than half of it has receded in most areas.
Matthew Davis, agricultural chair for the Jackson County Cooperative Extension Service office, said that as of earlier this week, about 10,000-15,000 acres of crop land was either still submerged or so saturated that it would be a losing proposition to move equipment onto the land.
“Originally, we had about 30,000 acres of submerged cropland,” Davis said. “We’re still weeks away from being able to get into those fields. Anything in our White River, Black River basin that originally flooded, I’d say it’s going to be every bit of two to three weeks before they can get back to plant or even access it, if expected rainfall occurs.”
The National Weather Service has forecast possible severe thunderstorms for most of the state during the Memorial Day weekend.
Branon Theisse, staff chair for the Craighead County Cooperative Extension Service office, said about 5,000 acres of cropland in his county were still submerged this week.
River levels also remain high, as efforts by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have scheduled additional releases through the spillway at Table Rock Dam in efforts to manage high water levels at the lake.
Even when the water does recede, infrastructure damage may provide another hurdle to overcome. According to data from the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department, only two sections of state highways are currently closed — a culvert under Arkansas 323 near Des Arc and about seven miles of Arkansas 304 near Pocahontas.
But unknown miles of gravel roads, maintained by their respective counties, were washed out in the flooding.
Jackson County Judge Jeff Phillips said he was still in the process of assessing the total damage to the roads in his county.
“That 10 inches of rain really did a number as far as roads and rice that was planted before the rain,” Phillips said. Flooding was widespread in the western portion of the county, he said, where the Black and and White rivers converge. The Cache River, which runs through the county’s southeastern portion, has also remained high in its banks.
Agronomists with the Division of Agriculture estimate that more than 361,000 acres of Arkansas crop production have been lost for 2017, more than half of that in rice production.
Eugene Young, Regional Deputy Director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service in Little Rock, said numbers from the USDA’s prospective planting report in late March won’t be adjusted or republished to account for replanting or lost crop acreage.
Changes in the state’s agricultural outlook will be more likely reflected in the department’s annual acreage report, scheduled to be published at the end of June, he said.
In the meantime, Davis said growers in his county were continuing to meet with their crop insurance agents and explore their post-recovery options. Many growers with cropland near the confluence of the Black and White rivers also had cropland elsewhere, he said, providing at least some avenue of relief.