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Floods in Early June cause more than $200 Million in Crop Damages; Number could Rise

By George Jared

Major floods in the southern Arkansas Delta in early June caused more than $200 million in direct losses to major crops, according to a preliminary estimate by experts with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

Rice and soybeans were especially hit hard as 600,000 row crop acres were impacted by the torrential downpours. Many of those acres were completely submerged from the rains.

John Anderson, economist with the Division of Agriculture and the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences, delivered the initial estimate during a flood recovery meeting held Monday (June 21) evening at the Dumas Community Center.

Dumas and the nearby Division of Agriculture research station at Rohwer were at the center of the flood event, during which more than 19 inches of rainfall was recorded in a 48-hour period. The five counties included in the damage estimate include Desha, home to both Dumas and Rohwer, Lonoke, Prairie, Jefferson and Drew counties. The estimate did not include Chicot County, the southeasternmost county in the state, although it will likely be impacted as floodwaters continue to drain southward from Desha County on their way to the Mississippi River.

Anderson said the estimates involve soybeans, rice, corn, cotton and wheat crops. The associated loss estimates amounted to $70 million each in soybeans and rice, $60 million in corn, $6 million in cotton and approximately $1 million in wheat and grain sorghum.

“That’s where we stand today,” Anderson said, noting that as counties begin to revise their estimates, those numbers will likely change. He said the estimates did not include specialty crops.

Bill Robertson, extension cotton agronomist for the Division of Agriculture, said about 4.5 to 5% of the cotton crop in southeastern Arkansas had been lost to flood damage in June.

Robertson said that in the wake of the flood, many cotton growers will need to plow the soil to break the surface crust so the soil can breathe.

“But when we do that, we have to be very careful not to destroy the roots that are there because cotton tends to be shallow-rooted in these conditions,” Robertson said.

Robertson warned against over-irrigating and over-fertilizing once the floodwaters drain off and the full heat of summer is upon the land.

“We’ve got a lot of potential ways to shoot ourselves in the foot,” he said.

He said growers may be tempted to overcompensate for perceived losses in nitrogen by applying additional fertilizer on fields that had already been appropriately fertilized in the spring.

“After a short while, the oxygen will get deeper into the soil, and we’ll get a good deep root system on the cotton plants again,” Robertson said. “But when the plant picks up all that nitrogen we’re putting out, then you’ve got a plant that’s in high gear, going as fast as it can go at a point in the season when we’re wanting it to slow down for harvest.”

Jeremy Ross, extension soybean agronomist for the Division of Agriculture, said growers should act quickly to assess how much of their soybean crop is salvageable, and how many acres they want to try to replant.

“Right now, on soybeans, the main thing is evaluating what we’ve got,” Ross said. “If you’re looking at replanting, increase your seeding rate 10-15% over what you’ve been doing under normal production practices.”

Ross cautioned, however, that maximum yield is essentially out of reach for soybeans planted this late in the season.

“Every day we delay getting beans into the ground, we’re losing yield,” he said. “By June 15, we’ve already lost 22% of maximum yield. So as of today, we’re looking at maybe 30% yield loss.”

Ross urged growers to use inoculants, which help to stimulate nitrogen-rich nodules on root systems, during replanting to maximize the available yield.

While estimates of economic damages in Arkansas corn were nearly as high as those of soybean and rice, Jason Kelley, extension wheat and feed grains agronomist for the Division of Agriculture, said that acreage losses in corn were relatively limited in the southeastern zone.

“Nearly everything in the area has been affected to some degree from flooding or wind damage that blew corn down, but we lost probably no more than 30,000 acres of corn,” Kelley said. According to a March 31 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Arkansas growers planted approximately 700,000 acres of corn this year.

He said that replanting corn at this point in the season was likely economically unfeasible for most growers.

Jarrod Hardke, extension rice agronomist for the Division of Agriculture, said that while hundreds of thousands of rice acres in the southeastern zone were impacted to some degree, the actual crop loss will be much smaller.

“Some growers lost partial fields, some entire fields were lost. It’s all over the place,” Hardke said. “Rice tolerates a flood very well — but because of this situation, where the crop gets submerged, one field to the next, you’re going to see a massive difference in survivability.”

He said that in addition to submerged fields, additional acres suffered blown levees, complicating growers’ efforts to maintain controlled floods midway through the growing season.

Attendees at Monday’s meeting also heard from experts in the fields of soil health, irrigation and pest management.

Christopher Henry, associate professor for the Division of Agriculture, urged growers to inspect and flush their pumps, which will likely harbor bacteria if they were submerged during the flood.

“You will have to irrigate this year, I’m pretty sure,” Henry said. “Any pumps that have been flooded and have been underwater, there’s a really good chance you have mud in them. You’re going to need to flush those out as soon as you can.

“There’s a good chance there are bacteria in that as well, so I’d talk to my well driller about chlorinating that well,” he said. “If there’s anything in that screen, this will clean it out, and if you’ve got iron-producing bacteria this will clean them out, too, so your well will be productive when you really need it most over the next 30 days or so.”

Tommy Butts, extension weed scientist for the Division of Agriculture, said growers should keep three key things in mind when managing weeds in the aftermath of the flood.

“Weed management isn’t going to get any easier after the flood,” Butts said. “It’s going to be on a very field-specific, case-by-case basis.

“It’s going to be challenging,” he said. “You’re going to have a different situation in every field. It’s going to take careful scouting and precise management.”

Butts reminded growers that, although any residual herbicides growers applied before the flood might be washed away, they still count toward their total seasonal use of herbicides.

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