About 5:30 in the afternoon on June 30, a massive hailstorm was unleashed on central Arkansas’ Lonoke County. The storm traveled about 14 miles — west to east — and was four or five miles wide. Some 27,000 crop acres were damaged.
“I’ve never seen hail damage in such a wide area,” says Jeff Welch, Lonoke County chief Extension agent. “The most I’d seen was 100 acres, maybe 200 acres.”
“The core of the storm was about a mile wide and ran for at least six miles. That’s where the worst damage is. Around 30 farmers were significantly hurt by the storm.”
Keith Perkins was helping set up a 4-H meeting when the storm hit.
“It began raining and the wind picked up,” recalls the Lonoke County Extension agent. “Then, the hail hit. It hailed for a long time and the wind was blowing sideways. Where we were, the hail was marble- to golf ball-sized.”
Immediately after the storm passed, “everyone was out checking their crops. It devastated a lot of acreage. Of course, a lot of farm-workers were caught in the storm.”
Besides crops, Perkins says the hail also damaged vehicles, punched out windshields, caused roof damage to houses, knocked holes in siding and house windows.
“This will tell you how strong the winds were: a couple of round bales of hay were blown across the highway, across a couple of ditches. They probably traveled 100 yards.”
Welch and colleagues currently estimate — “and it’ll be refined later” — that the 27,000 damaged acres contains about 1,600 acres of corn. A third of the remaining 25,000-plus acres are in rice with the balance in soybeans.
“Damage ranges from 100 percent loss at the core of the storm to 10 to 30 percent damage on the periphery.”
Major replant decisions await affected farmers. From June 15 to July 1, about 1 percent of soybean yield is lost per day. From July 1 on, 2 to 4 percent of yield is lost daily.
The economic impact of the storm “isn’t just the loss of a potential 50- or 60-bushel soybean crop, at $200-plus per acre,” says Welch. “To replant, another $200-plus will have be spent — herbicides, fungicides, fuel, irrigation, etc — while facing a guaranteed reduction in yield. A lot of this acreage now has a maximum potential of 35 to 40 bushels. Realistically, the yield will probably be in the 35-bushel range.
“So, it’s a serious question about the economics of replanting, or not. How much damage is acceptable versus how much it’ll cost to replant?”
What about corn?
“We’re reevaluating the corn acres today (July 7). The (worst-hit) fields are 100 percent loss. On the backside of some cornfields, there’s probably 60 to 80 percent damage.”
As with soybeans, the corn farmers have a hard economic decision to make.
“Say there’s already $500 per acre in the corn crop and, if renting land, another $100 for a $600 total. If he replants with soybeans, that’s another $200. So, he’s got to receive $800 to just break even. If he replants and gets a miraculous 40-bushel yield with soybeans at $10 (per bushel) that will provide $400.”
Sadly, the replant decisions are “actually based on how to get the smallest loss,” not be made entirely whole, says Welch. “And that’s hard to do.”