June flooding damaged more than half a million acres of crops in southeastern Arkansas. For the handful of counties hit hardest by the deluge — Lonoke, Prairie, Jefferson, Lincoln, Desha and portions of Drew — the preliminary flood damage estimates top $200 million.
Those numbers were shared at the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture post-flood meeting on June 20. Nearly 150 farmers packed the Dumas Community Center to hear Extension specialists address production questions following the unprecedented rain event.
Unfortunately, there seemed more challenges than solutions. There are fields still underwater. For those wanting to replant, yield potential is diminishing with each passing day. Managing late-planted crops will likely require more resources. And many farmers’ post-flood options are limited, due to pre-flood herbicide applications.
Farmers at the meeting were hopeful federal aid dollars would be coming. No promises were made at the meeting, although Keith Stokes, a project manager for Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), suggested the possibility of an agricultural relief bill that would assist Midsouth farmers affected by floods as well as producers in the West dealing with historic droughts.
“That will take time,” Stokes said, “but we feel like working with the western states to create a bill that will fits the needs of both.”
“We need to gather all the information on damages as soon as possible so we can help folks out,” he added.
Flood Damage Estimates
John Anderson, economist with the Division of Agriculture and the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences, delivered the initial estimate.
Anderson said the estimates concerned five major crops: soybeans, rice, corn, cotton and wheat. 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.
The estimate also did not include Chicot and Ashley counties, although they will likely be impacted as floodwaters continue to drain southward from Desha County on their way to the Mississippi River.
Vic Ford, associate vice president for agriculture and natural resources for the Division of Agriculture, said that about 600,000 acres of cropland in southeastern Arkansas were affected by the flooding event, with about half that submerged in several feet of water for an extended period, Ford said.
He said growers farming crops within the 300,000 heavily affected acre area were likely facing total crop loss for the season.
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 that 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 percent of maximum yield. So as of today, we’re looking at maybe 30 percent 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. His research showed a 12 bu/a increase in July planted soybeans when inoculants were used.
More recommendations from Ross on soybean replant are available at the U of A Row Crops Blog.
While estimates of economic damages in Arkansas corn were not 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.
“This late in the game, replanting might get you half of what you’d get in an optimum yield,” Kelley said. “Economically, we’re beyond the window for replanting corn or grain sorghum.”
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 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.”
He added that irrigation will not be easy this summer, as plants may not have a deep root zone and will require shorter, more frequent waterings. He encouraged growers to look at soil moisture sensors as a low cost way to accurately monitor soil moisture levels.
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. The flood waters could have brought new weed species to your fields. 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.
Finally, Butts said that with the June 30 cutoff date for dicamba herbicide application looming, growers should give careful thought as to what soybean varieties they will replant.
“Even if your crop survives the flood, coming up against this cutoff date, you want to think about your next options for controlling pigweed,” he said.
Gus Lorenz, extension entomologist for the Division of Agriculture, warned that while insect pressure will likely be intense going forward, growers should still pay attention to the threshold recommendations for applying insecticides, rather than making unnecessary applications.
“We’re in a bind, and the tendency is to overcompensate for that,” Lorenz said. “Those thresholds are there to tell you when you need to make applications. Every day we don’t have to spray is a good day. We don’t want to spend money on crops we don’t need to spray with insecticide.”
He advised growers of late planted soybeans to budget for at least one stinkbug application and one worm application.
Several growers in attendance said the recent flooding was one of the worst weather events they could recall. Jerry McMahan, who farms cotton and other crops near the Division of Agriculture research station at Rohwer, said it was the worst weather he’d seen in 50 years of farming.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” McMahan said. “The worst I’ve ever seen. But we can’t give up. We’ve got to try to do something.”