The shift in client questions to the Extension office from “why isn’t it growing?” to “is it dead?” is one indicator of the drought’s effects in Sevier County.
“We’ve got more calls this year on trees” from people whose drought-stressed trees shed leaves early, Rex Herring, Sevier County Extension staff chair for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, said Thursday. “They’re asking, ‘is it dead?’ and I say I can’t tell until next year.”
All of Sevier County is classified under extreme drought.
“People who come through our county from surrounding areas say we’re drier,” he said. In the drought’s early stages, “I talked to farmers who remember comparing this to 1980. As it went on, they said there was no comparison. It’s the worst that anyone living can remember.”
In 1980, the mercury hit 100 or higher 47 times at Little Rock.
Herring knows of one cattle producer who usually puts up 700 rolls of hay for the winter only having 120 on the farm this fall.
Thursday’s U.S. Drought monitor map for Arkansas had mixed news: There was no increase in the overall area covered in drought, but areas classified as being in moderate and exceptional drought expanded.
Despite a fairly widespread rain two weeks ago, the map released Thursday showed 98.79 percent of Arkansas under a drought classification, but the most intense drought category increased from 1.53 percent to 1.59 percent of the state’s area. Areas affected by moderate drought grew from 75.99 percent to 86.78 percent in a week.
A year ago, no areas in Arkansas were considered to have either extreme or exceptional drought, and statewide, drought covered an area just below 75 percent.
That last September rain came “too late for this summer’s crops,” said Doug Petty, Miller County Extension staff chair. “All the corn is harvested, and may cause some extra problems with the bean harvest. A lot of the beans are being baled for hay.”
In Lafayette County, staff chair Joe Vestal said the chronic drought has added to the downward spiral, as cattle producers continue to seek ways to feed their herds. Crop stubble is an option, but drought stress can cause some crops and forages to concentrate nitrates in doses deadly to cattle.
“Nitrate can be a problem in corn and milo stalks that were heavily fertilized with nitrogen and went through drought stress,” said Vestal. “I’ve had about 25 percent of samples sent to the lab come back over 2,100 parts per million, which can be lethal to cattle.”
The drought is also putting the kibosh on wheat. Lafayette County farmers rely on the early summer income generated by winter wheat and commit about 12,000 acres annually to the crop.
“The dry soil conditions are slowing wheat seedings,” Vestal said. “Soil moisture is needed to sprout wheat seed and right now our soil moisture is so short, a lot of seed will not germinate until rainfall is received.
“The longer the seed lies in the soil, the more bad things can happen to it. Fire ants can eat the germ of the seed, rendering it useless.”
The next chance for rain in Lafayette County is Columbus Day – with a 20 percent chance, according to the National Weather Service at Shreveport, La.
The continued absence of rain combined with dry air has prompted the National Weather Service at Little Rock to warn of an elevated wildfire risk through Oct. 12 in spite of an expected slight increase in humidity through the weekend.
The Arkansas Forestry Commission shows all of Arkansas as having a moderate-to-high risk of wildfires. The high-risk area is comprised of Crawford, Columbia, Franklin, Hempstead, Howard, Johnson, Lafayette, Little River, Logan, Miller, Montgomery, Nevada, Ouachita, Pike, Polk, Pope, Sebastian, Scott, Sevier, Union and Yell counties.
Burn bans were in place in Chicot, Columbia, Hempstead, Hot Spring, Howard, Lafayette, Little River, Miller, Nevada, Ouachita, Pike, Sevier, Sharp and Van Buren counties.