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Applicators — wet spring consequences

This spring, not only did Parkin, Ark. — a town about 35 miles northeast of Memphis — get an abundant dose of rains but the area also drains excess water from the north. Considering the waterlogged spring, it’s understandable why area crops are so late.

And, like area farmers, aerial applicators are scrambling to deal with the consequences.

“Right here, we’re already at our normal rainfall for the year — 40-something inches total,” says Dennie Stokes, owner/operator of Stokes Flying Service outside Parkin. “A lot of this area is in what we call a ‘floodway.’ All that southeast Missouri rain, all that water from the east side of Crowley’s Ridge, comes through us — the next outlet is the St. Francis River to our south.”

On June 1, floodwaters had been off the floodway only a few days. Some of that recently flooded ground already had rice and milo planted.

“A lot of the milo didn’t make it. We’ve been fertilizing rice since (the last week of May). About 1,000 acres of our customers’ rice that was planted before the flood actually survived. It’s a miracle that it did.”

For the most part, area crops are at least two and a half weeks behind. “That’s best-case,” says Stokes. “Actually fields are between two-and-a-half weeks to a month late.”

(For more on Stokes Flying Service, see

In Arkansas’ Grand Prairie region, just southeast of Stuttgart, Mark Hartz says the situation isn’t as tenuous.

“We’re rocking along, doing our best with all this rain,” says the pilot and co-owner of Grand Prairie Dusters. “Growers didn’t have to flush the rice nearly as much. When they flush, usually a bit of fertilizer is put out. So, we’re missing out on that application.

“In some respects, it’s been kind of an easy year so far because a lot of the spraying was done without having to worry about soybeans that were planted. But those are in the ground now and we’re certainly watching for them.”

In Hartz’ area the biggest issue has been trying to get the Clearfield rice sprayed.

“So far, that’s been the pressing thing, the biggest headache. Sometimes we have a problem with a lack of strategic planning. There will be Clearfield rice planted next to conventional rice. Trying to spray it without hurting the neighboring rice is difficult. And sometimes getting information from growers about what kind of rice is planted where proves to be difficult, as well.”

What about weeds and herbicide applications?

“A lot of rice sits on the schedule for two or three weeks before the right wind allows us to get it done. By then, there are weeds that haven’t had any herbicide. Earlier, a lesser amount of chemical would have taken care of those. But with the delay, rates have to be bumped up quite a bit. Newpath needs to be applied to take care of the red rice.”

Around Parkin, “we’ve kept things pretty clean,” says Stokes. “But some fields are in trouble — the weeds are too big. In fact, they’re so big that a burndown may not work.”

Last fall, Stokes put out more Valor “than we ever thought we would. That product worked very well. Of course, it rained all winter and that helped keep it activated. Last year, a lot of fields were sprayed the week of Thanksgiving and were still clean when they were planted. And, in some cases, those fields are still clean.”

About a third of the rice Stokes works has been sprayed and is in the process of being fertilized and having water pumped on. Another third to half of the rice was planted during the last dry spell.

“Probably 25 percent of the rice acreage we expected to have is still (uncommitted). There is actually rice being planted today. That’s very late. Two of our customers have said they’ll plant up until June 10.”

Is that because of contracts?

“One of them addressed that,” says Stokes. “He does have some rice sold, but that isn’t the sole factor. His contention is if he can get the rice planted and up in the next 10 days, he can do better with rice than soybeans. The ground is gumbo and trying to get a soybean stand early is a little tricky. And you have to get them up to a decent size before they can be irrigated.”

If the grower can get the rice up and growing quickly, “he believes there’s a better shot of making a near-full rice crop than a 45- to 50-bushel bean crop. And if the beans have to be watered a lot, you need to make about 45 bushels to come out” on the positive side of the ledger.

In early June, Hartz believed the incessant rains were finally finished and “we’ll be back to the normal weather cycle. The rest of the season should progress more normally.”

And when warm weather arrives, “rice has an enormous capacity to jump ahead. There’s already rice out there receiving a permanent flood. For the rest of the season, I expect rice to be business as usual. I don’t think this area will be appreciably later than is usual.”

It’s a different story elsewhere, says Hartz. In some rice fields, farmers couldn’t wait for ground to dry down. Many “began holding the water and seeded it by air. There are a lot of places in the state that were severely impacted by the rainfall. And then, the water backed up into fields because the bayous are full. There’s some of that here, too.”

Stokes is one of those who have been flying seed on. “We’ve been flying seed on every few days. We usually do some of that, but this is more than normal.

“Actually, I’ve never sown any hybrid rice, only conventional. But in the last couple of weeks, that’s changed — 35 to 38 pounds per acre. Initially, we were nervous about that, but it’s turned out really well.”

One positive this spring: fuel prices versus a year ago.

“The fuel price has moderated,” says Hartz. “It’s still higher than we’d like but is so much better than what it was.”

Aerial applicators counteracted last year’s high fuel prices several ways. Some applied a surcharge while others just raised their per-acre fee. Hartz, who opted for the surcharge, has now taken that off growers’ bills.

Is he anticipating the aviation fuel price to rise as is expected with gasoline?

“Man, we hope it doesn’t. That hamstrings everything. I hope everyone — even the oil producers — recognizes what happens when fuel prices start going up in the current economy. You don’t want to choke the economy when it’s trying to recover.

“To me, last year’s high fuel prices were a completely artificial situation. Speculation and everything that follows drove those prices up and hurt everyone. That played a big part in the recession we’re in.

(For more, see

“It just took so much cash — especially for applicators — just for fuel that it precluded us from doing things we needed to. A lot of things we’d have liked to have done with equipment and other things during the winter wasn’t done because the money was all burned over the fields taking care of the crops.”

(For more on aerial applicators, see


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