Drought creating agriculture uncertainty


What appeared to be a promising year for at least some of the state’s agriculture sectors is turning into a yo-yoing litany of potentially good news juxtaposed with the threat of catastrophe.

Makes for a pensive harvesting season and nagging doubts in every pasture, chicken house and hog pen from Lake Village to Rogers, Blytheville to Stamps.

First, the bad news.

Drought and memory-evoking heat have combined to wreak havoc. It’s one thing to suffer through a hot, dry spell when the only thing needing water is the front lawn. It’s quite another when soaring temperatures and no rain for weeks can wreck your livelihood. That’s exactly what farmers and ranchers have dealt with since spring ran away to hide in the shade.

Oh, to have a warehouse of precious hay for sale! Dried-up pastures have forced many ranchers to either sell off their herds or pay skyrocketing prices for feed. A resulting market glut has driven down market prices. Of course, this year’s sell-off will be next year’s mandatory restocking — at a premium.

The state’s row-crop farmers have felt the parched effects, too. Irrigated crops are expensive crops, but fields without irrigation have had to rely on spotty thundershowers to remain alive, let alone grow to the point of yielding anything. A drive through the heart of the state’s row crop base shows exactly that dichotomy. An irrigated early soybean field looks great. Beans that followed wheat have barely emerged above the once-tilled straw.

While it’s the producers feeling the pinch now, consumers will see their grocery dollars shorten in months ahead. The Midwest’s corn crop is failing. Sure, Arkansas corn farmers will get a good price for their bounty, but when the nation’s crop pours into silos in coming weeks, the full extent of a corn shortage will come into full relief.

But there is a bit of good news, too.

The rice harvest has begun, and if there’s one thing rice likes, it’s hot weather. This year’s numbing heat has helped produce scores of picturesque golden patches. If the yield matches the aesthetics, the crop should be a good one.

The Department of Agriculture is stepping in to provide a bit of market stability for some of the nation’s ranchers, announcing a $170 million buy. The purchase will provide food for a variety of programs and shore up prices at the same time.

Though much of the crop land in the Midwest and eastward through Illinois and Indiana is rich and fertile, most of those acres do not have irrigation systems. However, that is not the case in Arkansas. While corn and soybeans fail elsewhere, at least some of the state’s crops are doing well as farmers have been able to water as necessary.

As for good news, that’s about it. Short list.

Nearly 1,500 counties across the country have been identified as disaster areas, and those declarations will help ranchers and farmers recoup some losses, but they would much rather have tolerable weather and let the economic chips fall where they may.

This year will go down as one of the most difficult for those in the agriculture industry. In Arkansas and other states, as agriculture goes, so goes local economies everywhere. Tough times for the folks in the fields and pastures will ripple through to equipment dealers and repair shops and many other businesses.

We won’t know until late October or November how the state’s row crops fared this year. We already know that cows, pigs, chickens and turkeys have had a tough go of this scorching summer.

Unfortunately, the climax of this year’s growing season may linger for many months.

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Rick Fahr is publisher of the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway. His e-mail is rick.fahr@thecabin.net.