Farmers Racing Against Gordon

Southeast Arkansas farmer knows Tropical Storm Gordon is closing fast
( Chris Bennett )

Bright sun burns blue sky as Andrew Hartshorn races time and rolls a combine through endless corn. The southeast Arkansas farmer knows Tropical Storm Gordon is closing fast, carrying a potential for heavy rain and devastating wind. Simply, every bushel counts because Hartshorn’s crops are exposed to elements he can’t control.

Across Arkansas, combines are rocking the rows as farmers scramble to gather bushels before Gordon arrives.  With crop harvest cranking to high gear, the probable arrival of 3” to 6” of rain, and possible wind damage, is cause for serious grower alarm. Corn, cotton, rice, soybeans and other crops are about to take a hit, and producers have no way to predict the severity of the blow. In the temporary calm, growers are scrambling, running machinery 24-7 before storms arrive.

In Ashley County, Hartshorn is hoping to get half his corn out of the fields. “Not a minute to spare. Everybody is cutting. There isn’t a combine or truck around that’s not in use.”

“If I’ve got enough trucks, I’ll cut as deep into the night as I can.”

Andrew Hartshorn

Layne Miles farms in adjoining Chicot County and has three combines churning at full-bore. He echoes Hartshorn’s concerns: “We’re absolutely wide open. We cut last night till almost midnight and have all our corn done. Now we’re hammering beans.”

Miles also has significant cotton acreage and speaks plainly. “If we get 2” of rain or less I think we’ll be decent, but if it’s 6”, it’ll be devastating. There’s still lots of corn in our area, but most of the concern is over rice.”

Jarrod Hardke, Extension rice agronomist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, estimates 80% of Arkansas’ rice crop is yet to be harvested and warns of wind damage: “Maybe even more concerning than rainfall totals is potential wind damage.”

The pushing effect in top-heavy grain can be massive as dense rice fields go down in heavy wind. “Even if rice doesn’t go down, we can expect a drag on quality,” Hardke adds. “Remember, it doesn’t have to keep raining to keep combines out. Overcast skies and high humidity means rice won’t dry out.”

Clayton Miles, Extension agent for Chicot County, says 2018 has already been a grassy year for rice and could be another factor if rice goes down. “This may be the grassiest crop in 20 years, and if this storm stays on course, I think we’ll have lots of rice down.”

John David Farabough, Extension agent for Desha County, has fears over rice damage, but is also concerned over cotton loss. “Our cotton that’s been defoliated looks like it’ll get hurt because the bolls are open pretty far. A lot of rain will string it out and take away pounds and quality, even if it doesn’t ruin.”

Mikey Taylor farms in Phillips County and estimates 50% of corn acreage has been harvested in his area. “Personally, we’ve got our corn finished and are starting on beans. We don’t know what to expect but are getting what we can while we can.”

Mikey Taylor

Phillips County Extension agent Robert Goodson says growers are still cutting corn—even a little green. “One guy with a drier just cut corn at 22 because he’s moving so fast to try and get in his beans.”

“We’ve got cotton open, so rain and cloudy weather could rot bolls. I worry about all the crops, but rice going down and cotton rotting are my biggest concerns. As long as weather comes and goes quickly, we’ll be alright, but like so many things in farming, nobody knows what will happen.”

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