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Drought’s effects creeping into Arkansas’ irrigated fields

Arkansas row crop growers reliant on reservoirs now feeling drought effects. Corn harvest begins in Jefferson County, rain hampers start in Desha, Chicot counties. Visit Arkansas Drought Resources.

Arkansas farmers who rely on ponds to irrigate their crops are feeling the effects of months of drought.

Arkansas row crop farmers who can’t depend on groundwater use on-farm reservoirs. In Arkansas, more than 985,000 acres were irrigated at least in part by on-farm surface sources. Nearly 78,500 acres were irrigated solely from those on-farm reservoirs, according to 2008 numbers from the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), the most recent figures available.

For those using reservoirs, no rain means no refill.

“We have several people who are running dry on reservoirs,” said Keith Perkins, Lonoke County Extension agent. “They were full going into the growing season.”

C.J. Parker has a 50-acre reservoir that serves as the irrigation source for some 280 acres of rice between Humnoke and Carlisle.

“That one’s in pretty bad shape,” he said Wednesday. While this spring’s rains were good, “we never had any runoff to replenish the reservoir like we normally do.

“We’ve got two 6-inch wells down there that are also running -- and one of those wells wasn’t there until a week ago. In the past we’ve been able to get by with just the reservoir, but now we’ve had to put another well down.”

Parker said the reservoir was capable of irrigating at 2,500 gallons a minute. The wells put out 600 gallons per minute. “It takes a lot of wells to replace the reservoir.”

Parts of Arkansas saw rain between July 6 and Wednesday -- a mixed blessing. When it rains, “it takes a lot of pressure off my chest,” Parker said with a laugh.

For others, the rain is a frustration.

“The much-needed rain we have gotten over the last couple of days has hampered corn harvest,” said Desha County Extension Staff Chair Wes Kirkpatrick. “We have a couple producers who will start attempting harvest next week.”

It was the same story in Chicot County, where Extension Staff Chair Gus Wilson said some of his growers who were planning to harvest this week will now wait until Monday.

According to Monday’s crop progress report from NASS, corn was 3 percent mature -- an unprecedented earliness.

  • Cotton was 99 percent squaring and 70 percent setting bolls. Boll-setting hit the gas pedal – accelerating from the previous week’s 47 percent.
  • Rice was 21 percent headed; well ahead of the 5 percent five-year average.
  • Sorghum was 86 percent headed, well ahead of the 55 percent five-year average, and 19 percent coloring.
  • Soybeans were 99 percent emerged, in line with the 95 percent five-year average, but 46 percent was setting pods; well ahead of the 13 percent five-year average.

Non-alfalfa hay continued to decline, with 55 percent rated very poor, while 58 percent of pasture and range was rated very poor.

For more information on coping with drought, visit Arkansas Drought Resources or contact your county Extension office.

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