Farmers along the Arkansas River, its tributaries and other rivers on the eastern side of Arkansas are waiting nervously for the floodwater covering their wheat to drain away.
“They definitely didn’t need this,” said Jason Kelley, Extension wheat agronomist with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. “I’m sure the (flooded) acreage numbers are much greater than we envisioned last week when the rain started — tens of thousand of acres, I’m sure.”
Kelley said the flooding will be an economic hardship on farmers counting on the crop. The flooding will likely reduce yields in some fields and, depending on how long the water stays in the field, may kill some wheat. Additionally, all the money farmers have invested in the crop could be lost.
In Prairie County, Hank Chaney watched a mobile home floating down the rain-swollen White River. Chaney, county Extension agent, said other homeowners were watching water creep closer to their homes.
Some of the county’s farmers are upset and worried that if the water doesn’t retreat fast enough they’ll be in trouble on their wheat contract.
“The price looks so good, and they were hoping to sell at that price,” said Chaney. “But if the water doesn’t come off soon enough, they’ll have trouble coming up with the wheat to fulfill their contract obligations.
“Last year, we had a freeze, and now we have flooding.”
Jackson County farmers are in the same situation.
“I’ve gotten several calls this morning and last week from farmers wanting to know how many days water can stand on wheat before their wheat is seriously hurt or destroyed,” said Randy Chlapecka, Jackson County Extension agent. He said it’s hard to provide answers because there are so many variables involved.
Chlapecka said several thousand acres of wheat are under water along the White River. He believes if water has only been standing on wheat two or three days, it will probably recover. Other wheat has been covered four to six days, “and we don’t expect good things.”
Besides the prospect of a crop loss or yield losses, farmers have considerable money tied up in their crops. In the fall, they spent money on pre-plant fertilizer, seed and land preparation. Most farmers have already applied at least half of their spring nitrogen fertilizer.
“There was a lot optimism at planting because of high commodity prices,” Chlapecka said. Now, instead of a profitable crop the farmers are looking at substantial losses.
“I’m sure we’ll get through it. You know how resilient farmers are,” he said.
Woodruff County Extension agent Eugene Terhune says farmers face an additional problem. “Even when the water goes down, there’s so much debris that has floated over those fields that it’ll take farmers a lot of work to get fields ready to plant soybeans and other crops,” he said.