It's been a year for replanting in Jackson County, a practice producers in this corner of northeast Arkansas are getting used to. Last year, flooding ruined row crops. In late April this year, heavy rains arrived and quickly overstayed their welcome. Floodwater reached levels unseen since 1989. As of mid-June, many low spots were still holding water.
“This year, a lot of crops were ruined with flooding around the White River,” says Randy Chlapecka, county Extension agent. “We lost thousands of acres. The river dominates the area — mostly for the good (see accompanying article on the White River Navigation Project on Page 6).
“This river seems like a huge problem and our potential salvation at the same time. Farmers have been working river land for a long time, and they're used to rolling with punches. That's just part of it. In the back of your mind you always know it could jump its banks and catch you. You expect that to happen every few years. Lately, though, flooding has been more frequent, and folks are tired of it. We've had severe flooding for the last three years in a row.”
This spring, much of the corn planted along the river was “flat-out destroyed” and producers have planted soybeans in its place. Some of the corn appeared worthy of keeping, but fear of crazy-top and fungus disease weighed too heavily. No matter how low that risk might have been, says Chlapecka, “it was still too high for a bunch of farmers.”
Much of the area's 90,000 acres of rice — “our money crop” — is a mixed bag. Producers are keeping more of the questionable rice acres, although much of it is also going to soybeans.
Chlapecka has been working some rice variety trials. The flooding hurt the plots. “The river backed out over them, and when it went back down, levee dirt washed out over some of the plots. You can see how thin some of the stands are.”
There are probably 150,000 to 160,000 acres of soybeans in the county. Normally, large amounts of corn and grain sorghum — 15,000 acres each — are also planted.
“We also have some cotton acres. We probably have three or four nice-sized cotton farms. Pre-1980, cotton was huge in this county. Since then, though, we have switched to other crops.”
Jackson County, “chock-full” of great farmers, has a diverse set of agricultural concerns. “We have some of everything: every soil type from sand to clay, gumbo to sand blows. Even so, our row crop ground is really fertile, and we have very productive operations. We have a bunch of innovative, smart producers — they'll incorporate new things in a heartbeat. A few years ago, one of our farmers won the state wheat yield challenge with around 135 bushels per acre.”
What does Chlapecka think about the navigation project?
“Some folks are against it,” he acknowledges, “but from what I've seen, this project would help farmers as well as municipalities.”