Farm Progress

Rising Mississippi River could mean big problems for crops inside levee.Season-so-far reports from riverside counties.

David Bennett, Associate Editor

July 2, 2015

5 Min Read

In Memphis, the Corps of Engineers is expecting the rising Mississippi River to put some riverside farmland underwater. The river rise comes following a record wet May in the lower 48 states and recent rains from Tropical Storm Bill. The Mississippi River watershed is responsible for draining some 40 percent of U.S. land.

Jim Pogue, corps spokesman, having just spoken with the emergency management chief, says the prediction is “some of the riverside farmland may get as much as two feet of water. Some of that land isn’t expected to be dry until mid-July or even later.”

The river is expected to crest in Memphis on July 8 at 30.5 feet. Helena, Ark., is forecast to crest on July 10 at 39 feet. Greenville, Miss., will see the crest on July 13 at 48.5 feet. 

How might some Arkansas river counties be impacted?

Crittenden County

Farmers in northeast Arkansas’ Crittenden County will be paying attention, says Extension agent Russ Parker. “It appears that we have about 25,000 acres that are inside the levee in the county. About 15,000 acres of that are on two main islands actually in Tennessee that farmers here work. So, 10,000 acres is in Arkansas.

“I spoke to one of the farmers that works Island 40 – part in Tennessee and part in Arkansas. He said with a river level of about 20 feet he starts seeing some lower ground flood. At 30 feet, he estimated that some 50 percent of the ground will be underwater up to about 6 inches deep.

“That means, if my estimation is correct, at least 50 percent of that 25,000 acres will be affected by the river rising. The vast majority of the crops planted inside the levee, due to the risk, are soybeans. There may be a little bit of grain sorghum planted, as well.”

The riverside soils are very good, says Parker, and used to be planted in cotton. This year, however, “there’s very little cotton planted in the entire county and none planted on the unprotected side of the levee.”

How were the riverside crops looking before the threat of flooding?

“Most were looking very good. Now, there’s big concerns about the ability to replant. The farmer I spoke with said he’ll replant up to July 15 or 20. The river isn’t supposed to crest until July 8. Depending on how long the crest holds, I’d think some of this ground won’t dry out before that deadline. Hopefully, I’m wrong about that.” 

As for the rest of Crittenden County, “parts were able to plant early. Our corn is generally in good shape. Cotton was planted late. We have soybeans that are already waist-high and reaching canopy. Our rice crop a look good, although we lost some acres.

“Grain sorghum is the big shift this year and it’s been heading for a week. Other grain sorghum fields aren’t that far along. Some folks are saying we have 50,000 – even 100,000 – acres of grain sorghum. Regardless, we have a big grain sorghum crop.”

Desha County

Farther south in the Arkansas Delta, Desha County has become well known in recent years for producing 100-bushel soybean yields. The rising river isn’t much of a concern, says Wes Kirkpatrick, Extension staff chair. “We have hardly any crops inside the levee – maybe 100 acres. So, the rising river shouldn’t bother us too much.”

Overall, says Kirkpatrick, “the county is looking pretty good crop-wise. I wouldn’t have said that a month or six weeks ago since we had such a rough start with planting. There was so much rainfall earlier we have quite a few fields of soybeans that you could call ‘wheat beans’ without the wheat. The wheat yield was off because it was so wet through late spring.”

Then it dried up. “Over the last couple of weeks, some areas of the county have gotten lucky receiving periodic rainfalls. Ordinarily, our corn would have been watered four or five times by now. We’ve probably cut those irrigations down by one or two.”

Desha County has seen a bump in milo acreage but not as much as other areas. “That’s probably because only one elevator would accept it. Now, though, there’s another outlet for it and, depending on what the price does, that could increase milo acres in 2016. We might have had 1,000 acres of milo last year and we’re up to 4,000 or 5,000 this year.

“Weed control in all this rain has been spotty. Some places have been able to keep up with the weeds. On top of that, there’s been quite a few drift issues that have occurred because of applications made in sub-ideal conditions.”

Chicot County

In extreme southeast Arkansas, Chicot County Extension staff chair Gus Wilson says, “we may get some flooding, although I don’t expect that much. That was sure the talk in the coffee shop this morning among folks with some land inside the levee.

“All in all, we’re in pretty good shape in the county. We have two different types of crops: early and late. As for the early crops, the milo and corn and soybeans are beautiful. We had a very short window in early April to plant and those crops are set up for success. On Friday (June 26), I scouted hard looking for any disease in those crops and found nothing.

“At first, I was concerned about stink bugs because they were out in small soybeans. Now, though, I don’t know where they went. There’s a few worms out there but nothing near threshold.”

Chicot County has “lots of milo this year and, yes, the sugarcane aphid has been confirmed in the county. However, they are such a low level the early milo may outrun them. The later-planted milo I doubt will be able to do that.”

The biggest concern for producers are resistant pigweeds, says Wilson. “This year, our producers handled their field prep well, put out all sorts of pre-emerge applications and we started out very clean. Then, it stayed wet and a lot of Prefix and Flexstar had to go out with an airplane. Fields have seen a lot more escapes than I like to see.”

Plantbugs are beginning to see a build-up on cotton. “I’m sure some cotton will be sprayed this week. That’s nothing out of the norm, though.

“Of course it’s weather-dependent, but we should be cutting milo by August 10. By the third or fourth week of August, we should be cutting corn. Soybeans should be cut from the first week of September through late October – that should give an idea of how spaced out the crop is.”

About the Author(s)

David Bennett

Associate Editor, Delta Farm Press

David Bennett, associate editor for Delta Farm Press, is an Arkansan. He worked with a daily newspaper before joining Farm Press in 1994. Bennett writes about legislative and crop related issues in the Mid-South states.

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