Storm-damaged cotton acre estimates rise to 24K, 3K in soybeans
October 10, 2014
Damage may be higher than initial assessment
Cotton growers seeing loss, damage to green bolls
‘Significant damage’ to 24,000 acres of cotton; 3,000 acres of soybeans
LITTLE ROCK – When the skies finally cleared, northeast Arkansas cotton and soybean growers walking their fields found themselves staring at a far more grim picture of storm damage.
A violent storm that slashed through Craighead and Mississippi counties on Tuesday produced hail up to the size of golf balls, hammering cars and pulverizing plants.
There was significant damage -- 75 to 100 percent losses -- to an estimated 24,000 acres of cotton in Craighead and Mississippi counties. Mississippi County growers also saw significant damage to some 3,000 acres of soybeans, Bill Robertson, extension cotton agronomist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said on Friday.
Producers in Arkansas were just beginning to harvest their cotton. This year’s crop showed solid promise -- some fields offering up to 1,500 pounds of lint, or three bales, per acre. In some of the hardest hit fields, growers were able to harvest less than a tenth -- 140 pounds per acre, Robertson said.
The initial estimates -- which focused solely on hail damage -- were bad enough: 10,000 acres damaged, with 7,000 acres showing 50 to 100 percent lint loss.
However, the numbers rose after Robertson, Mississippi County Extension Staff Chair Ray Benson and County Agent Jason Osborn, and Craighead County Extension Staff Chair Branon Thiesse and County Agent Eric Grant compared notes from their conversations with cotton and soybean growers.
Right after the Tuesday morning storm, “there were some farmers that we called and text messaged and they said, ‘no, they didn’t have any damage’,” Robertson said. However, when the rain stopped, and they began walking their fields to prepare for harvest, growers “were shocked. There are green bolls all over the place on the ground that the storms had knocked off.”
Benson said the damage has left people numb.
“Everyone is walking around like a zombie. They don’t know what to do,” he said on Friday. “When you work with these folks every day, they’re more than just a customer or client. This is like seeing people in your family suffering and you feel helpless.
“You can improve varieties, you can improve production techniques,” Benson said. “But we cannot trump nature.”
Robertson said many cotton fields will not have enough lint to justify picking. “In some fields, the damage is so severe, that I don’t know if the yield will even pay for the diesel to harvest and for the plastic to wrap it up.”
Benson said that a soybean grower he’s been working with all season had been cutting 80 bushels per acre. After the storm, “he’s down to 15.”
Robertson added that in those fields, “you go out there now and the beans are still standing, but the storm shattered all the pods.”
Fortunately, the lion’s share of the state’s soybeans had been harvested.
Nurturing a crop all season long requires an enormous investment in equipment, fuel, fertilizers and tools to fight insects and weeds.
“It won’t take much to approach a $1 million loss for some of these growers,” Benson said.
More rough weather
The remnants of Pacific hurricane Simon were still bearing lots of moisture and in combination with an incoming cold front were expected to bring heavy rain to Arkansas with the potential for flash floods. By Friday morning, the National Weather Service had issued flash flood watches for much of the northern two-thirds of the state. The weather service said Arkansas could see 3 to more than 5 inches of rain through next Thursday.
“We don’t need that weather anywhere in the county. This is just going to add to the problems,” Thiesse said. “This is going to mess up what’s left of the soybean and rice harvests.”
Benson said rain had already begun to fall late Thursday.
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By Mary Hightower
U of A System Division of Agriculture
Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service