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Winning so far Arkansas farmers battle elements

When Malcolm Haigwood made a fall herbicide application in one of his fields near Newport, Ark., last fall, he never dreamed the field would be under 16 to 18 feet of water before he could plant it in corn this spring.

Haigwood farms several thousand acres of corn, soybeans, wheat and grain sorghum with his brothers, Stan and Dennis, along the banks of the White River south of Newport. Haigwood has seen the river flood before but rarely like it did this spring.

“The water went over the top of this center pivot three times,” Haigwood told a group of Brazilian chemical company sales representatives who toured the corn field in early June. “The water rose, then came down, went up and came down and went up again before it came down for good.

“They say it takes a 100-year flood to put water that high in this field. Since the water went over the pivot three times, I guess we had three 100-year floods in one month.”

Farmers and other residents of Arkansas endured all kinds of weather phenomenon this spring. Dee Henderson thought he was watching the town of Keo get blown away as he followed the path of a tornado toward it in May.

Henderson, who farms around England, Ark., and lost a significant number of acres to hail from yet another tornado, couldn't believe his eyes as he watched the storm.

“It started over there (in the west) and began moving to the northeast,” he said during a stop at his farm by the Brazilians. “It looked like it went right through Keo. I jumped in my truck and started driving. I was sick to my stomach when I drove into town.”

(One farm headquarters and several outbuildings were destroyed, but miraculously no one was seriously injured. Residents of Earle, Stuttgart and other Arkansas cities weren't as fortunate.)

University of Arkansas weed scientist Bob Scott wasn't in harm's way from storms or floods, but he and his fellow researchers were challenged by the unusual weather patterns this spring.

“We came over here because we didn't think we were going to be able to get our weed resistance plots near Clarkedale (in eastern Arkansas) planted,” he said, describing herbicide treatments in a field near Furlow in the central part of the state. “Then the situation changed over there, and we planted both of them.

“But everything we've been doing is late this year. And our farmers have been facing the same problems.”

(The tour for the Brazilians, who work for Sumitomo Chemical Do Brasil and Iharabras S.A. Industrias Quimicas, included stops in Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Mississippi. The tour was organized by Valent USA Corp., which is owned by Sumitomo of Japan.)

Henderson said he felt he had experienced a whole crop year's worth of weather in two months because of the spring storms. But he found the streak of luck may not have run out the day the Brazilians stopped by one of his fields.

In a nearby field of no-till soybeans, Henderson found Palmer amaranth that had survived an application of glyphosate. Glyphosate-resistant pigweeds have been found in other parts of Arkansas but not in the area around Little Rock where Keo and England are located.

“I wasn't expecting this,” said Henderson, who has been one of the top finishers in the Arkansas Soybean Yield Challenge. In 2003, he finished in second place with an average yield of 82.5 bushels per acre. “This will be a challenge.”

By the time the tour group left, Henderson and Adam Compton, an agronomist with Helena Chemical Co., were plotting strategies for trying to deal with the resistance problem. “I may just disk this up,” said Henderson. “I don't want this spreading.”

As you might expect in a field that was under water for several weeks, few weeds — resistant or otherwise — were showing in the Haigwoods' field near Newport. But enough emerged in a strip under the pivot that couldn't be sprayed to convince Haigwood of the value of a fall-applied residual herbicide.

“We put down atrazine when we planted, but nothing else has been applied in this field since last fall,” he said.

The disruptions caused by last spring's flooding weren't confined to the farm. Managers at the Helena Chemical Co. location in Newport had to move all of their product to higher ground — twice — when the flooding threatened to top the levee that winds around Newport.

Ironically, the day the tour stopped at Haigwood's farm (June 4), corn was beginning to roll up from lack of moisture, and Haigwood was considering turning on the pivot to water a field that only a few weeks before was covered in water.

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