If a monetary value could be placed on each drop of rain that has fallen from the sky onto parched croplands in recent days, the final tally would likely reach into the millions of dollars.
These million-dollar rains could also mean the difference between establishing an acceptable stand and a costly replanting for many Sunbelt farmers. “The production value of the recent rains depends on when the next rain follows, but for those growers who would have been forced to replant without the rain, the economic benefits are already adding up,” says Steve Martin, agricultural economist at Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville, Miss.
“In many areas the lack of rainfall in April and May caused an acreage shift from soybeans to rice because farmers thought it was too dry to plant soybeans. Farmers also delayed planting cotton due to the lack of moisture available in the soil,” he says.
While many growers had already invested in early irrigation applications before the storm clouds formed, dryland growers across the region watched helplessly as soil moisture levels dropped dangerously low. In many instances, fields lacked the moisture necessary to germinate seed, delaying plantings or forcing producers to irrigate what appeared to be empty fields in order to establish a stand.
The value of rainfall after an extended period of drought this time of year, Martin says, equates to roughly one irrigation application — about $5 or $6 per acre. In those instances where planting was delayed, or replanting was necessary due to the drought, producer losses increase another $25 to $50 per acre, for every 10-day delay in harvest. “Multiplied by all of the acres in the Delta, that's a lot of money,” he says.
According to the National Weather Service's Palmer Drought Severity index for the week ending May 19, almost all of the Sunbelt was in the midst of a drought, with the Mid-South and Southeast faring worse than the Southwest. On a state-by-state basis, the agency's ranking based on drought severity from worst to best, is as follows: Tennessee, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, Arkansas, Alabama, Texas and Oklahoma.
In the Mid-South, the National Weather Service estimates the rainfall deficit at 3 to 6 inches in the Delta, and up to 15 inches in parts of northeast Arkansas, west Tennessee and southeast Louisiana.
Bart Freeland, research assistant at the Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville, Miss., says, “For the year since Jan. 1, our rainfall totals are just about average, but if you look at the growing year beginning April 1, our total rainfall is about 5 inches below normal.”
The weather station's rainfall records show a total of 3.99 inches of precipitation during the month of April and 2.44 inches in May. The 30-year rainfall average is 5.36 inches for April and 4.95 inches for May.
So far during the month of May, the Stoneville site measured 0.42 inch of rainfall on May 8, 0.10 inch on May 9, 0.33 inch on May 19, 0.11 inch on May 21, and 1.47 inch on May 22.
In comparison, temperatures in the Delta were slightly above the 30-year average for the months of April and May.
According to Freeland, the average temperature at the Delta Research and Extension Center for the month of April was 67.5 F, four degrees warmer than the 30-year average of 63.5 degrees Fahrenheit. May's data recorded, to the 21st of the month, averaged 75.5 F, some 3.5 degrees above the 30-year average of 72 F.