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Farmers asked not to panic over rains


The spring of 2009 is beginning to feel like a replay of last year when rains and flooding took most Poinsett County farmers to the cleaners.

"We're in serious shape here," said Rick Thompson, county Extension staff chair with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.

"We're way past our prime planting window for the best rice yields," he said. "I think about 35 percent of the intended rice acreage has been planted, and a lot of fields didn't have levees up and had not been treated with a herbicide."

By the time the ground dries out, some farmers may decide to switch to another crop, Thompson said.

Unfortunately, he said, "we've got farmers who already have their rice seed bought and treated." He expects a few farmers who farm west of Weiner will water seed, or fly seed onto the flooded fields, hoping to get a crop when the water recedes and leaves the seed on the ground.

The longer farmers go past the prime planting window, the lower the rice yields will drop.

"It's such a high risk game if they can't get it planted on time. Instead of 180 to 200 bushels, farmers may be looking at 130 to 150 bushels or less," he said. "You have to raise 150 bushels to stay in the ball game."

Thompson said some fields along Bayou DeView have had up to 6 feet of water on them. "The next question is, 'All that rice that has already been planted--is it going to make it?' It can't stay under forever and survive."

Randy Chlapecka, Jackson County Extension staff chair, said farmland along the White, Black and Cache rivers was flooded, creating big problems for farmers.

"The low areas where land is under water is bad, but not as much land is involved as spring flooding last year," he said.

"Most of my calls have been about rice varieties that farmers can plant late. If the rain stopped today," he said, "many farmers wouldn't be able get back in fields until later in May." Yield potential is dropping off significantly the longer planting is delayed.

Late March and early April are the most favorable planting times for rice.

A few farmers are thinking about water seeding. That's a last case scenario, he said, "but some guys are pretty successful at it."

Wheat potential was really good until a month ago, Chlapecka said, but wet conditions can promote fungal diseases and starve roots for air. Yield potential is dropping, he fears.

Don Plunkett, Jefferson County Extension staff chair, said rain continues to make a bad situation worse. The ground is saturated, and the additional water has nowhere to go. He said it tends to back up into low-lying fields.

"We're asking farmers not to panic. We have an emergency crop production meeting scheduled later this week because this is a serious threat to our growers, lenders, industry folks and others," he said.

"We've been behind schedule all spring because of frequent rains," he said. "This is the third year in a row where spring rains have been so frequent they hurt farmers. This year is worse because it extends later into May."

Extension recommends that farmers plant corn before April 15, Plunkett said, "but we still have folks trying to plant corn."

Many farmers have planted early variety soybeans, and they can plant later beans by mid-June. "With the equipment farmers have, they can plant the crop pretty quickly when it dries out."

He said cotton producers could still get seed in the fields, if it dries out soon. Rice is beginning to have a short planting window left. Livestock and forage producers are beginning to get anxious, he said, because they can't get equipment into fields to fertilize or harvest hay.

Water seeding rice is tricky, he said, and "many of our farmers aren't prepared for water seeding. One rice farmer told me his crop has been under water for a couple of weeks, and fish have grazed some of his crop."

Frequent spring rains have hindered farmers trying to control weeds. "It's really wooly in places," he said.

The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the U of A Division of Agriculture.

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