While Wednesday’s special weather statement from the National Weather Service dangles hope of relief for Arkansas farmers with the possibility of more rain and below-normal temperatures next week, summer drought and heat have done their damage.
Wednesday had a stormy start in Pope, Johnson, Conway, Faulkner and Pulaski counties, with wind gusts of more than 50 miles per hour taking down trees and power lines and stripping the roof off a home in Hunt, according to reports to the weather service. The morning had the look of autumn, with leaves from drought-stressed trees strewn over lawns and roads.
The National Weather Service reported record rainfall Tuesday at Little Rock Adams field – the 1.43 inches breaking the record of 1.3 inches set in 1916. It was the same across the river, with 1.5 inches at North Little Rock and 2.8 inches at Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville.
Berni Kurz, Washington County Extension staff chair for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, said the rain gauge at his Fayetteville office showed .52 inches on Monday night. It’s a welcome watering for thirsty lawns, landscape plants and home gardens.
“This half-inch is a great start, but we need 2 to 4 inches of rain to do a deep soak,” Kurz said.
“The Ozark hills are dotted with dead trees. Some southwestern exposures show extreme drought stress with most tree leaves having turned brown. We will be losing trees over the next several years, because trees do not fully bounce back from a drought like we are experiencing.”
The drought has caused tree loss to another villain: fire. Between June 1 and July 31, Arkansas Forestry Commission crews suppressed 483 wildfires that burned 5,055 acres. The 10-year average for this same period is 155 wildfires for 1,413 acres, the commission said.
Wildfire danger was rated as extreme in Benton, Carroll, Columbia, Hempstead, Howard, Lafayette, Little River, Madison, Miller, Montgomery, Nevada, Ouachita Pike, Polk, Sevier, Union and Washington counties. The rest of the state’s counties have either a high or moderate wildfire risk. More than half the state’s is covered by burn bans.
The Arkansas River Valley has been particularly hard-hit with the summertime blues.
“Pastures are simply drying up before your eyes in Faulkner County,” said Hank Chaney, county Extension Staff Chair. “To add insult to injury, grasshoppers and armyworms are eating what green grass we have left.
“Several producers are already feeding hay and are considering getting rid or out of the cattle business. The problem is several growers in Texas and Oklahoma are considering the same option, which could result in lower cattle prices.”
Livestock growers are not just worried about a short hay crop, but also rapid evaporation of water in ponds and higher projected feed costs.
“In the crop area, pigweeds are king,” Chaney said. Hot, dry conditions undercut the effectiveness of weed killers and reduced density of soybean stands. “We were late getting into the field due to flooding, and when it quit raining, it simply quit.”
The relentless heat and dry conditions significantly reduced home and commercial vegetable production.
“2011 is a tough year. As someone said, ‘let’s fast-forward the remainder of the year and hope 2012 is better than 2011’,” Chaney said.
For more information on crop production or forestry, visit www.uaex.edu, arkansascrops.com or contact your county Extension office.