Isaac brings rain, worries and relief for Arkansas drought

Photo Credit: NOAA

Hurricane Isaac’s approach to Arkansas and the Midwestern states couldn’t be more of a blessing. These areas are in great need of significant rainfall. My thoughts go out to those affected by the significant flooding and wind damage on the coasts of Mississippi and Louisiana.

Even though some forecasts are calling for up to 8 inches of rain for parts of Arkansas and flooding conditions will be likely, I have a feeling many will welcome the relief to this year’s Exceptional drought. It won’t be the slow, soaking rain we’ve been praying for, but it will bring relief in the way of filling water reservoirs and streams.

Hurricane Isaac and Arkansas Farming

Arkansas farmers have been scurrying to bring in mature crops that are ready to harvest. This includes a large number of grains, including the largest rice crop in the country. When the storm moves in, strong winds can blow down plants and cause seed heads to sprout and become moldy. To complicate things even more, barge traffic on the Mississippi (a major shipment route for Arkansas crops) has been halted due to low water levels, and now is closed because of hurricane conditions down-stream. Janice Person explains more about the impact of Isaac and crop harvest.

Cattle continue to move to markets in large numbers and the markets continue to hold high, mostly do to out-of-state buyers. Replacement quality cows continue to be a hot commodity. Dry, mature cows brought up to $137 per cwt (or $1.37 per pound), which figures more than $1600 per head. The market report from my family’s cattle auction shows slaughter cattle and calf markets holding strong. Buyers were hesitant this week; likely due to threat of flooding rain from Isaac.

Arkansas drought continues to burn up pastures

Despite all this talk of rain and flooding that looms, a drought still persists over much of the country, as is reflected in today’s update of the Drought Monitor. A few weeks ago I was able to make a trip home, traveling through Northwest Tennessee, the Missouri Bootheel, and much of Northeast Arkansas. The trip and scenes of the drought stricken fields was absolutely devastating and depressing. Only irrigated fields and crops remained green, even these were stressed by the intense heat.

My family’s best pastures are nothing but dirt and dead stems of what was once pasture forage. My dad has been feeding hay since late June. We mostly stocker cattle (feed them for a short amount of time rather than raise a permanent herd for a calf-crop) so we can manage the increase in cost of feed. But most farmers cannot afford the expensive feed.

Mr. Bill Pruitt, who was featured in our recent story on CBS News, brought a load of cows to the auction barn while I was in town. He’s selling his cows, 10 at a time, until something changes or he sells them all. I’ll admit, that was a hard moment to swallow.

A very awakening moment for me was feeding alfalfa hay on our best hay pasture. Dad is flaking it out in different areas of the pasture, hoping to avoid compaction of the soil and trying to spread out the cattle so manure will not pile up in one area. We’d love to fence the cattle off of more pasture to prevent root damage (from over grazing and pulling the dead grass), but due to the little amount of water left, we have to utilize all pasture land.

Another moment that stopped me in my tracks was seeing the number of trees that have already shed most of their leaves. There are numerous ponds that are dried up, or nearing that point. Large spans of dried pond bank are littered with skeletons of fish that died when the water level became too low. Wildlife came and stripped the edible potions, leaving only the skeleton and head.

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The moisture received in portions of the country affected by drought conditions will be welcomed relief. Not the kind we were looking for, but relief none the less. Here’s hoping for few tornadoes, decreasing winds, and limited flooding.

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About Ryan Goodman (1054 Articles)
Ryan Goodman lives in Helena, Montana, but grew up on a family cattle ranch in Arkansas. He has spent the last several years learning about farming systems across the country, living in Oklahoma, Texas, Wyoming and Tennessee. He is a proud Animal Science graduate of Oklahoma State University and has completed graduate level research at the University of Tennessee, focusing on beef cattle reproduction and nutrition. Ryan works with the Montana Stockgrowers Association and does speaking events across the country centered on agriculture advocacy for farmers and ranchers. Outside of advocacy, Ryan is a novice runner, with goals of accomplishing his first Half Marathon in 2015, and enjoys refueling with a good steak. #TeamBeef!

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