Wet start to 2013 planting season

The 2013 planting season in Jefferson County and surrounding areas has been characterized by too much rain and later than usual crop seeding, which local officials say is a complete U-turn from the abnormally warm and dry conditions area farmers were met with in the spring of 2012.

“The conditions delayed a lot of corn planting,” said Jefferson County agricultural extension agent Anthony Whittington. “People who planted in late March and early April had to replant after the excessive rains and unusually cold weather took out their first attempt. Some of them had to switch to soybeans because of a shortage in seed corn.”

Whittington said area rice farmers also felt the pinch.

“We had a lot of them who had to go with water-seeded rice instead of the more common drill seeding,” Whittington said. “The seed is packed in with water and loaded onto an airplane where it is then released over the fields. It costs more than the drilling method and requires an increased seed rate since the seeds are dropped onto the soil as opposed to being planted directly into the ground.”

Whittington said the development of the corn crop in Jefferson County will be staggered this year because of the different dates of first planting.

“We have some places where the corn is still only knee-high and others where it is over my head and I am 5- 7,” Whittington said. “Overall things are still looking good.”

Whittington said that total planted acreage in Jefferson County roughly equals the numbers compiled by the United States Department of Agriculture in 2012.

“The USDA recorded 110,000 acres in soybeans; 55,000 acres in corn; 57,000 acres in rice; 11,000 acres in wheat and 4,000 acres in cotton for 2012,” Whittington said. “Rice is probably down a little bit this year due to late planting and higher ground moisture levels. Cotton is about 3,500 acres this year.”

Neal Keahey owns a 1,500-acre farm near Grady in Lincoln County.

“In general things are about a month behind normal,” Keahey said of this year’s planting schedule. “All of our rice, corn and soybeans are planted but there are some in the Grady area who are still trying to plant their soybeans. It’s still been too wet for them.”

Keahey also co-owns Farm Brothers Flyers in Grady.

“We’re really busy,” Keahey said of the air operations. “We’re doing a lot of work with planting rice out of Ladd [also in Lincoln County].”

Keahey said he still holds out hope for a decent harvest this year.

“While the conditions this year are not optimal a lot of how things end up depends upon what happens between now and harvest time,” Keahey said. “If it gets hot and dry there’s no question that the yields will suffer but if we get timely rains then it might not hurt as much as you would think.”

Keahey said corn is normally planted early in the spring in Arkansas in order to avoid the highest summer temperatures.

USDA Farm Services Agency County Director Rod Woods agreed that frequent spring rains have upset agricultural planting schedules in the area.

“Compared to 2012 when we had a real dry spring, this one was kind of the opposite,” Woods said. “There are still some areas where farmers haven’t been able to turn over their dirt for the first time this year. Bottomland has taken a long time to dry out. There are others who have just gotten their fields planted. A farmer normally needs four days of dry weather before they can get out in their fields but this year we’ve been getting rain about every four days.”

Woods said that the late planting will likely cause additional headaches for farmers later in the season.

“Since everything has been planted at the same time it will need water at the same time and that will put the farm labor situation in a bit of a bind,” Woods said. “Corn and rice normally have a much earlier planting season than we were able to have this year. Corn is normally harvested by August but some of it will be later this year.”