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In record heat, farmers farm

Despite excessive heat warnings and record highs, Arkansas producers must still scout fields for pests, check water pumps, run combines and monitor tree stands, Extension personnel with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture said Monday.

Monday’s high at Little Rock reached a record 106, and there’s little relief in sight from triple-digit temperatures. The National Weather Service was predicting highs of more than 100 through Thursday and had issued an excessive heat advisory effective until Wednesday night.

Through July 28, the Arkansas Department of Health reported five heat-related deaths this summer.

“Farmers have to keep going regardless of the temperature,” Chlapecka, who is the Jackson County Extension staff chair for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. “The work has to be done and it doesn’t wait on the temperature to cool off.”

Fortunately, modern combines have air-conditioned cabs.

“However, quite a few of the grain trucks, especially older ones, don’t have AC,” he said. “Cabbed tractors have AC unless it isn’t working, but there are still some open-air tractors out there.

“Producers are busy with irrigation and scouting fields for insects and diseases,” he said. “Scouting for insects is better in the mornings or evenings because some insects would rather hide out when it is hot, just like some humans.”

Chlapecka said most producers “try to cope by drinking plenty of water and getting in the shade or near an air conditioner when they get a chance.”

Drinking water and taking frequent cool breaks out of the heat are good tactics, said Margaret Harris, assistant professor of health for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.

“Even a few hours spent in air-conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat,” she said.

Those whose work keeps them outside should know the symptoms of heat-related illnesses. The most common heat-related conditions are heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, sunburn and heat rash. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are the most harmful conditions.

“Heat stroke is a medical emergency that occurs when a person’s natural body temperature rises above 106 degrees,” Harris said. “Heat stroke can cause permanent disability or death if treatment is not immediately provided.”

Heat stroke symptoms include hot, red skin, changes in consciousness, rapid and shallow breathing, and dry skin, unless the person was sweating from work or exercise.

Foresters are a group with special risks from the heat. While the forest canopy helps reduce sun-driven temperatures, “people don’t realize that humidity under a dense forest canopy is very high,” said Jon Barry, assistant professor with the U of A Division of Agriculture. “All that water transpiring from the leaves and there’s very little wind penetration to blow the humidity out.

“The high humidity reduces the cooling effect of sweating and makes the high temps even more dangerous,” he said.

Barry said many foresters work alone. “A forester working alone on these very hot days has no room for error when it comes to staying hydrated and cool.” Barry recommended that crews keep track of their members to ensure everyone is accounted for by the end of the day.

Cattle are just as susceptible to heat stress as any mammal.

Don Hubbell, resident director of the U of A Livestock and Forestry Station at Batesville, Ark., said water and shade were a top priority.

“We are checking all the wells and making sure all of the animals have plenty of shade for the majority of the day somewhere in the pasture,” he said. “ We are doing all cattle handling early in the morning when it is coolest and getting done by 9 a.m. or 9:30 a.m., if at all possible.

“If we can’t get done by then we’ll split the cattle handling up over two or more days,” he said.

For more information on heat-related illnesses and staying safe in the heat, visit

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