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Pests, crop disease weighing on Arkansas growers

PINE BLUFF, Ark. (AP)--Having to plant late this year has put more Arkansas farmers at risk of crop damage from pests.

Arkansas rice, soybean and cotton producers are seeing insect and disease problems at a time when many of them ordinarily would have harvested their crops, said Don Plunkett, Jefferson County Extension staff chair for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. The rainy weather has also left some growers with standing water in their fields.

Clay, Conway, Greene, Mississippi, Randolph and White counties have been added to the list of counties where Asian soybean rust has been confirmed, for a total of 28 counties. Only about 35 Arkansas counties grow soybeans, and the yield-reducing disease will likely be found in all of them, said Scott Monfort, the division's Extension plant pathologist.

Plunkett said growers and consultants have plenty to overcome.

"One is that the rain stopped harvest,'' he said. "Second is that the rains have prevented timely fungicide applications as well as insecticide applications.

"A third problem is soybeans are splitting along the suture of the pod and beginning to sprout,'' Plunkett said. "These split pods also allow infections.''

As of Sept. 13, only 5 percent of the soybean crop, 20 percent of the rice crop and none of the cotton crop had been harvested, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

In mid-September, Plunkett said he was alerted to a field where a type of aphid that normally infests wheat and other crops was sighted in rice. He said the aphids have since spread through Jefferson County and to other areas of the state.

"Some folks are seeing five to 20 aphids per head on late-planted--and therefore late-maturing--rice,'' Plunkett said. "These small insects are sucking the milk and juices from the kernels and this will impact both yield and quality.''

Lonoke and Jefferson counties are also reporting lodging where the stalks fall over due to heavy rain or high winds.

The Lonoke County Extension staff chair, Jeff Welch, said yields there are down.

"Our yields are not as high as they need to be because we've had diseases such as blast that have really hurt us,'' he said. "We're hoping for a mediocre crop.''

Corn yields were lower as well.

But not all is dark in Lonoke County, Welch said. "We've harvested a small amount of soybeans and Group IIIs in particular might be the bright side of the whole thing,'' he said. "Soybeans are grouped by how quickly they mature."

Soybean growers were already scouting fields over the last three weeks for rust and other diseases that thrive in wet conditions.

In 2008, the Arkansas 123.5 million-bushel soybean crop was valued at more than $1 billion, according to the NASS. The rice crop's production value was pegged at $1.5 billion last year, and cotton lint was valued at $349 million.

More rain is in the forecast for the week ahead.

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