Though drought in Arkansas took a tiny step backward in last week’s U.S. Drought Monitor map, that’s little consolation for ranchers for whom the weather in 2013 has been a rollercoaster ride.

Last Thursday’s drought map showed just under 49 percent of the state with some form of drought. Severe drought covered much of the southernmost counties. The least severe drought category, “abnormally dry,” covered parts of Washington and Crawford counties, the Arkansas River Valley from Logan County into Little Rock and parts of other counties from Oklahoma to the Mississippi River.

In Chicot County in southeastern Arkansas, “Corn harvest is winding down, and for most, should end this week,” Gus Wilson, Chicot County extension staff chair for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said Monday. “All in all, we are having a great harvest and yields are doing very well. It’s just very hot and dusty, but we would rather eat dust than harvest in the mud.”

The downside to dust is that it can be a safety issue, reducing visibility for people on the road and in the combines, said Robert Goodson, Phillips County extension agent. It’s also a maintenance issue, forcing growers “to blow out their air filters every day.”

While the dry weather has been great for harvest, pastures are drying out. The next shot at rain, according to the National Weather Service at Little Rock, is a 20 percent chance on Wednesday.

“It’s getting dry in a hurry in Newton County,” said Adam Willis, county extension staff chair. “We need rain badly. Our pastures are going to start to stuffer as a result. These 90-degree days are really starting to take their toll.”

Some growers fear they’ll have to reach into their hay supplies early if a good rain doesn’t come soon.

“With no significant rainfall for a few weeks now, the grass is drying up,” said Steven Sheets, Hempstead County extension agent. “We’ve had some reports of creeks and ponds drying up — if they ever recovered from the past two years.”

At this point in the year, ranchers are looking at production of winter annual grasses when the fall rains generally come.

“We are still waiting on significant rainfall to assist with winter annual plantings,” Sheets said. “The positive to this year is that we have produced lots of hay earlier in the year, however if it don’t rain in the next few weeks, we will be forced to start feeding hay.”

Don’t look for either of the two Atlantic tropical storms Gabrielle or Humberto to help or hurt Arkansas. Tuesday’s five-day cone for Gabrielle shows the storm remaining to the east of the U.S. Eastern Seaboard , while Humberto isn’t expected to make a westward crossing of the Atlantic.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service report for the week ended Sunday shows the acceleration in the corn harvest, up to 43 percent compared to 24 percent the previous week. Forty-four percent of cotton was opening bolls, compared to 75 percent last year and the 55 percent five-year average. Rice was 11 percent harvested, up from 4 percent the previous week.
Soybeans were 100 percent blooming and 4 percent harvested.

Mary Hightower
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture