The phrase “days suitable for fieldwork” has an impact larger than whether a farmer can get in to the field or not – it’s critical data for helping producers manage risk, especially weather risk.

The Arkansas Crop Progress report issued each Monday afternoon by the National Agricultural Statistics Service during the growing season includes days suitable for fieldwork.

“Every farmer understands that each growing season is a gamble,” said Terry Griffin, assistant professor-economics for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. “Variables that can put his or her crop at risk, such as weather, insects and market pressures, seem to be endless.

“This year, nature is driving home the lesson that weather risk affects the timing of applications, machinery management and whole-farm planning. Farm decisions are based on the likelihood of having an expected number of days suitable for fieldwork and should anticipate a below-average year rather than a good or average year.” 

Griffin said the average year may be defined as the fiftieth worst year, with half of the years having fewer days and half the years having more days suitable for working in the field. He bases his calculations on National Agricultural Statistics Service figures from 1975 through 2009.

Days suitable for fieldwork in 2011 have been all over the chart. The first week was above average, but a wave of severe weather struck in mid-April and the days suitable dropped below average, including a low of one day during the week ending May 1. The number of suitable days for fieldwork has since rebounded.

Griffin, along with graduate student John Kelley, has written a fact sheet, “Days Suitable for Fieldwork in Arkansas,” that details the role of fieldwork days in risk management.

Griffin’s weekly plotting is available here.

For more information about crop production and agricultural economics, contact your county Extension office or visit www.uaex.edu.