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Isaac rainfall begins; halts harvesting marathon


LAKE VILLAGE – The rain from Isaac’s leading edge was silencing the sounds of Arkansas’ combines.

“Light rain started around 6 this morning,” Gus Wilson said Thursday. Wilson is extension staff chair in Chicot County, the southeasternmost county in Arkansas. “Harvest has stopped at the moment.”

Like many counties in Arkansas’ row crop country “the combines ran almost all night,” Wilson said.

Keith Perkins, Lonoke County extension agent for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said he spoke with a farmer who worked the harvest until 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday and started again 8:30 a.m. Wednesday and planned to work until he just got too tired.

“He feels that he is in a race with the storm – more like a marathon,” Perkins said. “He is hoping to finish his corn harvest before the storm hits.”

The work hasn’t been in vain.

“We made a pretty good dent in harvesting the crops that were ready to harvest before the rain set in this morning,” said Wes Kirkpatrick, extension staff chair in Desha County, just to Wilson’s north. The rain started there around 7 a.m. “We still have a long way to go though.”

Though 78 percent of Arkansas’ corn crop harvested at the end of last week and farmers made good progress this week, “unfortunately, we are going to run out of time before the rain starts,” Jason Kelley, extension corn and sorghum agronomist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “With the corn that’s still out there, we are concerned about whether the corn crop will still be standing after the storm passes. If the corn blows over, it is next to impossible to get all of the corn into the combine, so yields will likely drop after the storm if we have lodging.

“The other concern is grain sprouting if water gets into the ears,” he said. “We saw that in 2008 with the remnants of hurricanes Gustav and Ike. If we get 10 inches of rain and water gets into the ear due to loose shucks and upright ears, we could see grain sprouting in the shuck.”

Sprouting grain is also an issue in sorghum, which was 65 percent harvested as of Monday’s report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

“Mature grain sorghum will readily sprout in the head if we get continuous rainfall for an extended period,” Kelley said. “We saw this in 2008 and 2009, which drastically reduced grain quality.”

Gauging any damage from Isaac “is likely to take a couple of weeks,” he said. “Once the storm goes by, hopefully we can get some good weather to allow harvesting to continue.”

Ironically, exceptional drought made a tiny increase in Arkansas, moving from 45.3 percent in last week’s U.S. Drought Monitor map to 45.5 in Thursday’s map – issued amid flood watches on the day Isaac’s first effects were being felt.

In the Hydrometeorological Prediction Center’s Thursday rainfall projection, the heaviest rains – in the 7-8 inch range, are expected for Arkansas run from the southeastern corner, north and west toward Little Rock. (See the latest maps at www.hpc.ncep.noaa.gov/tropical/qpf/tcqpf.php)

For more information on flood preparedness see: http://uaex.edu/news/pressroom/storm_recovery/BeAware_Flooding.pdf

Tornado preparedness tipsheet available:

http://uaex.edu/news/pressroom/storm_recovery/BeAware_Tornadoes.pdf