Arkansas farmers in race against Isaac

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DE VALLS BLUFF, Ark. – Arkansas farmers were burning daylight and diesel Tuesday, racing to get as much of their mature crops out of the field as possible ahead of Isaac’s arrival on Friday.

The five-day forecast cone Tuesday afternoon still had the center of what would become tropical depression Isaac in central Arkansas at 7 a.m. Friday. The storm was expected to become extra-tropical the following day and track to the northeast up the Ohio River Valley.

Rainfall projections show totals higher than 4 inches expected in a pear-shaped area stretching from northern Chicot County to about White County – prime row-crop areas.  Much of the rest of the Arkansas Delta was expected to receive more than 2.5 inches.

“We are running around the clock where possible on rice,” Brent Griffin, Prairie County extension staff chair for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said Tuesday. “One farmer was harvesting at 6:30 a.m. today and will run as long as wind blows or there are trucks to fill.”

Griffin said the lines at the elevators at Hazen and Des Arc are six rows deep and the elevators were keeping extended hours.

In Lonoke County: “Looks like trucks are backed up at the rice mill waiting to get unloaded,” said Keith Perkins, Lonoke County extension agent.

“Instead of the calm before the storm, this is the harvest rush before the storm,” Perkins said. “Too bad we will not be able to finish before the storm hits. We can only hope that we get only rain and no big winds.”

In Phillips County, Extension Agent Robert Goodson said, “everyone who can, is working.”

There weren’t any big lines at elevators yet, he said, “People are nervous.”

High winds and heavy rain can flatten crops or cause grain heads to sprout or get moldy.

One row crop farmer in Lonoke County said he was spending every second Tuesday trying to get his crop in. “I can talk after this storm comes through.”

While crops are being rushed to the elevators, some of grain already there can’t move because low water in the Mississippi has shut down the port. On Tuesday, Osceola Port Terminal in Mississippi Co., Helena Harbor, Phillips County Harbor, as well as the port in New Madrid County, Mo., and Northwest Tennessee Regional Harbor, were all closed. Osceola is taking grain. It just can’t ship any out.

“Osceola is closed due to shallow water,” said Bob Anderson, chief of public affairs for the Army Corps of Engineers’ Mississippi Valley Division. “We should have a dredge there in late September.”

The good news is that the difficult 11-mile stretch near Greenville, Miss., that was shut to traffic last week remains open. “We have a 9-foot deep, 300-foot wide channel all the way from Cairo to the Gulf,” he said.

The Kerr-McClelland System on the Arkansas River isn’t subject to the same issues as the Mississippi due to its lock and dam system, said Laurie DrIver, spokeswoman for the Army Corps of Engineers in Little Rock.

The only change for the system has been at Montgomery Point where the Arkansas, White and Mississippi converge. The lock structure there is different from any other in the Arkansas River system. Its unique design is meant to fix seasonal low-water issues when the Mississippi’s level drops.

Its gates usually sit on the bottom of the river and boats typically sail over the top.

“Last month, the gates went up. We’re holding a pool there and having all the boats go through the lock,” she said. “We did have to dredge between the lock and the Mississippi River.”

It’s the fist time the gates have been up since 2008 and “it’s working as designed,” Driver said.
“If we do get the 5-6 inches above Cairo, Ill., …  and points along the Upper Mississippi where it would drain directly into the river, we may see about a foot bump up” in the Mississippi’s water level, Anderson said. “The main concern is if there is a significant rise and no rain behind it, that might move the sand back into the channel from the sides of the channel.”

As for rainfall and Arkansas’ drought, Isaac will help some, but much more is needed, said Deborah Tootle, associate professor-Community and Economic Development for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. 

“The National Weather Service tells us that the southern part of the state, below I-40 needs close to 12 inches of rain to end the drought,” she said. “Northern Arkansas needs 15 inches or more.”

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