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Exceptional drought makes small retreat in Arkansas

In Arkansas, exceptional drought retreats to 45.3 percent from 53.6 percent. Hope returns for livestock producers. Boone County livestock producers getting winter annuals into the ground.

Tiny green strands of grass -- and some hope -- are reappearing in spots around Arkansas as the most intense level of drought retreats slightly in the U.S. Drought Monitor Map released Aug. 23.

Rain has fallen -- a hint that Arkansas’ weather pattern is becoming more fall-like -- and at least one place, Little Rock Air Force Base, saw a record low of 61 on Wednesday.

Exceptional drought declined to 45.3 percent, down from last week’s 53.6 percent, its broadest reach so far this year. The exceptional drought area includes all the counties on the Missouri border, with its southern boundary making a big “U,” running through Washington, Crawford, Franklin, Scott, Yell, Garland, Saline, Pulaski, Lonoke, Prairie, Woodruff, Cross, Poinsett, Craighead and a piece of Mississippi counties.

There was some irony that Benton County, in the northwest corner of the state, began receiving rain the week it was added to the most intense drought area.

“Mother Nature teased us a little last Monday -- it was the start of county fair week, so that was a given,” Robert Seay, Benton County Extension staff chair said Wednesday. “It greened up the warm season grasses some, which has the cows chasing the growth like they do when the temperatures break each spring.”

Seay said, “a few producers began to drill seed after that teaser, but most are keeping seed in the bag until the serious moisture arrives.”

A little further east, another bone-dry county was enjoying Nature’s decision to open the tap.

“The majority of Boone County received rain in the last two weeks and in a couple locations in the eastern part of the county, I received reports of up to 4 inches,” said Mike McClintock, county Extension agent. “The summer grasses have responded and I saw one producer cutting Bermuda last night.

“The grass needs some easing of grazing pressure so that it can grow, but we are happy with a capital H!”

Winter annuals are going in, even though it might be a little early. McClintock said producers don’t really have a choice, “due to the scarcity of no-till drills. It’s first-come, first-served on drill rent.”

Even Pope County, featured globally in news reports about drought’s effects on livestock operations in Arkansas, has seen scattered showers with amounts ranging from .5 to 2.5 inches, said Extension staff chair Phil Sims. Some green has reappeared, but “weeds are growing like wildfire and the seed ticks are back. Fall armyworms will probably follow soon.”

Rain has been spotty in southwestern Arkansas.

“No rain here,” said Joe Paul Stuart, Extension staff chair in Little River County, which borders both Texas and Oklahoma. “We are in the worst shape we’ve been in all year, but better than this time last year.”

His producers are making plans for winter annual planting, which will get started in mid-September.

However, in neighboring Hempstead County, Extension agent Steven Sheets said rain has greening up, “but cattle are keeping up with it. There will be some later cuttings if weather doesn’t turn cool too early.”

Sheets adds a warning “Please don’t tell the fall armyworms about all the winter annuals that are going to be planted. It may be a challenging fall for cattle producers.”

Find more information about drought and livestock here or here.

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