June 18, 2008 Edition

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Weather cycles cause
hard times for farmers

Vivian Heyl
Staff Writer

The torrential rains of March and April have long since subsided giving way to hot dry weather.

"We went from too much to too little," said John Andrews, who farms east of Walnut Ridge.

Planting has been underway for several weeks now but farmers have been faced with yet another setback with dry weather forcing them to flush fields to germinate crops and activate chemicals.

"What a lot of folks don't understand is that adverse weather is not just storms," said Harry Hicks. Hicks, who has farmed in Lawrence County for most of his life, added that the hot, dry windy weather which plagued farmers for much of late spring has made getting crops into the ground extremely difficult.

"Just because you have a wet winter doesn't mean your crops are going to grow," Hicks said. "Farmers need rain when the crops are in the ground. We farm land that gets hard as a rock when it starts to dry out. You have to break it up to get it planted and then it loses whatever water was left. You have to flush the field with water just to get your crops started."

"The wind has been a severe problem," Andrews said. "The planes couldn't fly. We couldn't get fertilizer down or herbicide. Right now we need to be planting the bean crop or we're going to miss the beans."

Lawrence County Extension Agent ~ Agriculture Herb Ginn estimates that 98 percent of the rice crop is in. Farmers have either already planted soybeans or are in the process.

"Farmers were able to plant soybeans, but many factors are involved in determining if beans can be planted such as soil type, planting system and available soil moisture," Ginn said.

"Right now one of the biggest problems facing our area is the lack of rain. We need rain badly. Many farmers have been forced to flush rice fields in order to activate chemicals and to help with seed germination."

Ginn says he can't predict what kind of year farmers are facing. "It's difficult to know what kind of year we will have," he said. "In regard to disease, it's hard to say especially if the weather pattern were to change. Some entomologists believe that we might see an increase in insect problems."

Farmland damage estimates

After nearly two months of flooding many farmers were faced with fields suffering from erosion, sedimentary deposits and other difficulties.

"Our levees and roads took a lot of damage," Andrews said.

Most farmers in the flood plain lost topsoil and precision-leveled land was severely damaged.

Rick Goff, director of the Lawrence County Farm Service Agency, said that the county committee has determined that there has been $2 million in damages to farmland along the Black, Strawberry, Spring and Cache rivers as a result of the spring floods.

The county committee has requested the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) for Lawrence County. "At this time this request has been sent to the FSA State Office, before funding can be approved, congressional action will have to take place," Goff said.

Farm Bill

Farmers who had high hopes for this year's Farm Bill are disappointed that the result has been less than anticipated.

"We need a new title for a permanent disaster program," said Andrews. "That way when things get bad the Secretary of Agriculture could just say there is a disaster and set things in motion.

"This farm bill is not as good as the last one," he said. Farmers are not getting nearly as much support as in the last bill."

"We're in a global economy. It's not just about U.S. prices, it's about world prices," Andrews added. "People see the prices for wheat set in Chicago and think that's what farmers are making. Those prices do not reflect what the farmer is getting when he takes his crop to the grain elevator."

First District Congressman Marion Berry said, "The new Farm Bill is terrible, but it is the best deal we were going to get.

"We got no cooperation," Berry said. "It's half of what we had. The responsibility lies with the White House and with the leaders in the House and Senate. The Farm Bill doesn't adequately address disasters. If there is any funding for fixing levees or repairing damages, it will have to be a supplemental bill."

The new Farm Bill will not go into effect until 2009. Until then the 2002 Farm Bill is still in effect.

The president vetoed the current bill and Congress overrode the veto. However, due to the omission of one title (Title III, Trade) from the version sent to the White House the newly enacted law contained only 14 of 15 Farm Bill titles.

Congress has since placed the omitted title back into the bill and has sent it on to the Senate for the second time. The president is expected to veto the bill, and it is also expected that the veto will be overridden for a second time.

Farmers are currently feeling an economic pinch, according to Andrews.

"Nobody has received any payments," he said. "We're going deeper into debt. Farming is a big part of our economy and it's hurting the entire county because the money is not in the economy."

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