July 18, 2012 Edition

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Ray Stone (right) is raising corn for the first time this year. He and Matthew Franks (left), who is in charge of irrigating the fields, said there are 143 acres planted in corn and the crop is doing well as long as the irrigation pumps keep running.
TD Photo ~ Shantelle Prater

Farming expenses
increasing due
to drought

Vivian Heyl
Staff Writer

Crop prices are predicted to reach an all time high in the next few weeks as drought conditions push up prices on such commodities as corn, wheat and soybeans.

Though prices are looking better than usual the cost of producing the crops has also increased at an exponential rate.

Long-term drought in Lawrence County is causing increased hardship for area farmers. The lack of rain in June, just slightly more than two inches during the month, and only 37-hundredths of an inch so far in July has led to very dry conditions.

The majority of Northeast Arkansas has been given a D3 ranking (extreme drought) by the National Oceananic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Though some areas have received showers the county has not seen significant rainfall since April. The persistent drought has increased the need for irrigation to sustain crops and bring them to maturity.

Ray Stone of Walnut Ridge said that some of his fields are showing significant signs of drought. "We took a half-inch metal rod and lowered it into a crack in one of our fields and it went down five-and-a-half feet. That makes it hard to irrigate a field," he said.

Stone planted corn for the first time this year. "The corn is doing well," Stone said. "We planted 143 acres in corn and are having to irrigate it, but pest control has not been bad."

"We have had less insect problems this year," Stone said. "We have had the least insect presence I can remember having."

Herb Ginn, agriculture Extension agent for Lawrence County, said that heat and drought have increased the need for irrigation countywide. "Increased irrigation means increased cost to farmers," he said.

Rice continues to be the number one crop in Lawrence County and University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension District Agronomist for Rice Lance Schmidt said that so far the rice crop is looking good.

"We had good planting conditions and good emergence," he said. "Rice is heading now and a lot depends on temperatures. Too high nighttime temperatures could be a problem." Rice requires nighttime temperatures no warmer than 74 degrees according to Dr. Chuck Wilson, director of rice research at the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.

"Soybeans are doing okay this year," Stone said. "The drought is causing some problems and irrigation needs have increased for the crop.

In addition to an increased need for water due to the drought, farmers are also feeling the pinch in other areas.

"The price of fuel, chemicals and equipment are all rising and that also impacts farming costs," Stone noted.

"Urea, which is extensively used to fertilize corn, is extremely expensive. There were 96,000,000 acres of corn planted across the nation this year, and there is only one American manufacturer for urea. Because we import most of the urea we use farmers must pay a 47 percent import tax on it."

Peanuts are beginning to get a toehold in the county and Birdsong Plant Manager Chris Henson said that the peanut is a drought tolerant crop.

"Peanuts are doing very good so far," Henson said. "Our growers have around 4,000 acres planted and they are looking good."

Terry Henry who is growing peanuts for the first time this year said he is irrigating his crop every seven to 10 days.

"I haven't had enough experience with the crop to predict anything but so far my crop is doing OK," he said.

Crops aren't the only agri-business hard hit by drought. County Extension Agent Bryce Baldridge said that cattle producers have been especially hard hit by the lack of rain.

"Hay production is way down. Farmers are baling crop residue such as milo stubble to get through the year. In July most cattle farmers are able to pasture their herds but there is no pasture to graze this year.

"The lack of pasture and no hay crop to speak of has farmers culling their herds," Baldridge said. "Cattle prices are down and farmers are already having to feed hay so their cost is rising."

The National Weather Service is predicting a slight chance of rain for several upcoming days and reports on Tuesday said some areas were receiving brief showers. If hot, dry weather continues to hold sway over the county, farmers expect to see irrigation costs continue to increase.

"What we need is a good long rain," Baldridge concluded. "That would help a lot."

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