Harvest is a 24/7 Affair
HARRISBURG (November 4) – After a month
of watching promising crops succumb
to fungus and other ills caused by record rainfall, Arkansas farmers
were running combines and pickers full tilt this week to reap what’s
left in the fields before the next rain falls.
“As long as the weather holds, guys will be going 24/7,” Jeremy
Ross, extension soybean agronomist for the University of Arkansas
Division of Agriculture, said Wednesday. “They were harvesting around
my house last night ‘til around 9 p.m.”
The combines are equipped with an array of lights to cut through the
rural dark—an eerie sight.
“If they could fly, some might think it was a UFO,” Ross said.
The mud harvest is having another side effect: “There is a rotten
ground or sour smell in fields that some describe as ‘hogpen
smell’,” said Don Plunkett, Jefferson County extension staff
chair for the U of A Division of Agriculture. The smell is due to
anaerobic bacteria at work in the soaked soil.
Meanwhile, Gov. Beebe announced Wednesday that USDA is making disaster
assistance available to Arkansas farmers in six additional counties:
Johnson, Logan, Newton, Ouachita, Scott and Searcy. Eligibility for
emergency low-interest loans continues for farmers in 54 other counties.
Ross said that while visiting northeastern Arkansas on Tuesday, he saw
lots of combines and pickers in the fields.
saw one stuck in the mud,” he said, adding that several
low-lying fields still had standing water in the middle and many of
the ditches and rivers were still full.
For all their effort, some growers may see precious little. Cotton
growers have seen hard-locked bolls, sprouts in the bolls, boll rot,
discoloration and other conditions that, in some cases, have nearly
halved their yields to 700 or 800 pounds of lint per acre.
Soybean growers who had great stands in September, are now harvesting
beans damaged by fungus, germination, split pods and other problems that
will cut deeply into the per-bushel price. In southeastern Arkansas,
some growers were lucky to get $3 a bushel when non-discounted prices
were running around $10.
One Prairie County grower alone lost 3,000 acres of soybeans, said
Brent Griffin, Prairie County extension staff chair for the U of A
Division of Agriculture, adding that the grower was able to salvage his
rice. Ironically, the grower’s flooded fields are proving a boon to
“Ducks are already hitting the fields feeding in an area that has
some of the best hunting in Arkansas,” he said. Duck season in
Arkansas runs Nov. 21-29, Dec. 10-23, and Dec. 26, 2009-Jan. 31, 2010.
Corn growers, who also had a good-looking crop in September, are faced
with plants that have lodged as stalks weakened in the humidity.
One of the saving graces in corn “is that they’re propped up and
not laying in the water,” Plunkett said. Another is that some of the
ears are bottoms up, allowing the shuck to shed rain like an umbrella,
instead of allowing water to pool next to the ear, he said.
Dew can cut into the farmers’ 24/7 harvest ambitions.
“As night comes on the dew begins to settle onto soybean hulls, rice
heads and cotton,” Plunkett said. “Once cotton lint gets moist from
dew picking has to stop. If soybean or rice gets too moist harvest might
stop as well due to higher moisture levels.”
Beyond the harvest, there is anxiety about the future for some farmers.
“Some growers expect to go out of business in this region, based on
the heavy damage to their soybean and cotton crops,” Ross said.
With the pickers running long hours and filling trucks, elevators
typically offer extended hours during harvest, “but 24/7 service would
only be an emergency measure,” said Scott Stiles, extension
economist-risk management, for the U of A Division of Agriculture.
Some elevators at Memphis, Tenn., and Helena-West Helena, were keeping
long hours too, receiving trucks from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., and offering
moisture tests of samples until 10 p.m.
“Given the current circumstance, I’m pretty sure most elevators are
open on the weekends if weather permits harvest,” Stiles said.
“They will try to accommodate the farmers.”
Farmers are keeping their eyes on the weather and river forecasts.
According to the National Weather Service at North Little Rock, the next
chance for rain is Monday.
The National Weather Service said flood warnings were continuing along
the White and Cache rivers. The Cache River is slowing declining, but
even at Monday’s forecast level of 10.6 feet at Patterson, it’s
still well above the 8-foot flood stage. The White at Newport is
expected to decline to 26.2 feet on Monday, just inches above the flood
stage. The White at Clarendon, however, was expected to rise to 30.5
feet on Monday, still well above the 26-foot flood stage.
In southeastern Arkansas, where many of the state’s waterways drain
en route to the Mississippi, farmers faced a longer wait for dry
“It all comes this way,” Plunkett said.