Arkansas Agriculture

Cotton field
Trisha Downing / WIkimedia Commons

For hundreds of years, the dark, nutrient-rich soils of the Arkansas Delta supported cotton farming. For more than a century, trade in this plant made this the most prosperous region in the state. As the 2000s unfolded, the cotton industry and supported industries such as ginning began a massive decline.

Cotton field
Trisha Downing / WIkimedia Commons

Cotton growers who have been financially hurt by a global drop in demand and market prices are now eligible for relief funding through the federal Coronavirus Food Assistance Program.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently released additional details regarding the program, through which payments are now available for a number of non-specialty crops, including upland cotton.

cattle
FastilyClone / WIkimedia Commons

Following a monumental, but brief surge in cattle production in March, the market in April is set for one of the worst production months in decades.

The number of federally inspected slaughtered cattle for the week ending on April 24 was 469,000, a 25% (173,000) drop from the same week in 2019, according to an economic impact report released by the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. The number of ready-to-process cattle will spike, and prices will drop, agri-economist John Anderson said.

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One of the state's biggest crops could help some Arkansas farmers stay afloat during the economic challenges caused by COVID-19.

Arkansas is the nation's leading rice producer and that may benefit the state in the coming months, says to Dr. Tim Burcham, Director of the Northeast Rice Research and Extension Center for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

David Wildy, a prominent Arkansas farmer, in a field of soybeans that were damaged by dicamba.
Dan Charles / NPR News

Farmers may again begin using the weed killer dicamba this week, but a significant amount of litigation is on the horizon.

A Missouri peach farmer was recently awarded $265 million after a jury found that his orchard was damaged by dicamba-based pesticides, according to the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. A U.S. District Court jury doled the money to Cape Girardeau farmer Bill Bader in February after 30,000 of his peach trees were reportedly damaged or destroyed by dicamba used by other farmers near his farm.

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Despite the growing number of COVID-19 cases in Arkansas, long stretches of wet weather are proving to be more of an issue for farmers, but the virus is having an impact.

Jarrod Hardke, rice extension agronomist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, says typically, this would be the beginning of the planting season for rice. However, the excess rain has complicated things.

"The overabundance of rainfall throughout the winter and early spring has the majority of our ground still unprepared for planting at this point," Hardke said.

Sarah Kellogg / KUAR News

A partnership between the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and Heifer International aims to develop resources and knowledge on urban farming and apply it to UA Little Rock’s Campus Garden.

The collaboration, announced Wednesday at UA Little Rock, will provide students and faculty the opportunity to work with Heifer International though field days, workshops and will also be able to share equipment and work with personnel to further improve the garden.

Picture of a tractor on a farm
Creative Commons

Marshall Stewart’s farm equipment company has navigated the financial storms that have wrought havoc on the state’s agricultural community. Between tariffs, low commodity prices and historic weather challenges, the state’s farmers have had a tough row to hoe.

"It’s been difficult and it has placed a lot of strain on the agriculture sector. We did have the MFP [Market Facilitation Program] payments to help offset that. So, when you look at net farm income over the course of the last couple years, you’ve not seen them go down tremendously," he said.

The National Weather Service

Arkansas farmers are bracing for another wet winter. Rainfall totals of up to seven inches in parts of the state are already well above average for February. John Lewis, senior forecaster for the National Weather Service, said this wet winter trend began two years ago.

"2018 was the 9th wettest year we’ve ever had in Arkansas, and that goes back to 1895. And 2019 was the 7th wettest, so you had two top 10 wet years in a row and we're certainly starting off that way this year," Lewis said.

Sarah Kellogg / KUAR News

Farmers in the Jefferson County area had the opportunity to hear advice and predictions on the 2020 planting season during a crop production meeting held by the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.  

Beginning in early January, the Division of Agriculture has held production meetings at its county extensions across the state. This particular meeting, held Wednesday in Pine Bluff is the 16th so far, with twelve more to go this February. It focused on corn, soybeans and rice as well as presentations on weeds and insects. 

Picture of a tractor on a farm
Creative Commons

A “Phase 1” trade deal was signed Wednesday by President Donald Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He that reduces some tariffs between the countries and seeks to boost U.S. agri exports to China. Critics say the deal avoids the hard trade issues between the two countries.

Following are some of the items in the newly signed deal.

An example of a farmer harvesting soybeans.
Creative Commons

The last two growing seasons have been some of the toughest in decades for Arkansas farmers, but a glimmer of hope met many as the harvest season rapidly came to a close in 2019.

The state’s top crop, soybeans, was the most-watched. Farmers saw soybean acreage plummet in 2019 by more than 590,000 acres to end at about 2.6 million, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

Daniel Breen / KUAR News

State regulators have voted not to increase restrictions surrounding the use of a controversial herbicide that has been blamed for widespread damage to crops and other plants.

Members of the Arkansas State Plant Board met Wednesday to discuss new proposed regulations on dicamba for the 2020 growing season. All but one member voted to not require farmers who use the chemical on genetically modified cotton and soybean fields to report spraying records and real-time GPS coordinates to an online database.

Flooding Lawrence County Farms agriculture
Arkansas Farm Bureau / Twitter

Irregular weather patterns this past year both harmed and aided Arkansas farmers in their planting and harvesting. 

Large amounts of rain significantly delayed planting for all Arkansas crops, including rice, corn and soybeans. Jarrod Hardke, rice extension agronomist for the University of Arkansas’s Rice Research and Extension Center, said this year’s rice planting process was the slowest in 25 years.

Samantha Hagler feeds one of her Nigerian Dwarf goats. Hagler is one Arkansas teen that uses much of her time and resources to participate in livestock showing.
Sarah Kellogg / KUAR

Over 470,000 people visited the Arkansas State fair this year, with many coming for the food and rides. However, one thing that attracts the attention of many competitive youth in the state is livestock showings.

Last week at the state fair, Future Farmers of America students, members of agricultural clubs, and independent farmers competed against one another to show premier animals from around the state. Many competitors are young people who sacrifice their time and resources to take part in livestock showing.

Daniel Breen / KUAR News

Members of the Arkansas State Plant Board have approved new restrictions on a weedkiller that’s been blamed for widespread crop damage.

At the board's quarterly meeting Tuesday, members voted to require growers who use dicamba on genetically modified cotton and soybeans to keep GPS records of spraying, and to file spraying information with the board's online registry.

The board had originally considered lengthening the time period when dicamba can be sprayed by six days, but opted to keep the spraying cutoff date at May 25.

Daniel Breen / KUAR News

United States Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue visited Arkansas Wednesday to sign an agreement between state and federal forestry partners and to speak with local leaders in politics and agriculture.

Joined by Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Republican U.S. Reps. French Hill, Bruce Westerman and Rick Crawford, Perdue signed a Shared Stewardship agreement between the U.S. Forest Service, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and the state’s Department of Agriculture and Game and Fish Commission.

Sarah Kellogg - KUAR News / KUAR

Trade discussions between the United States and China resumed Tuesday months after talks initially dissolved. However, the lack of a deal, over one year into the trade war continues to leave Arkansas farmers with a surplus of crops and fewer vendors to sell them to. This combined with an above average amount of rainfall has led to a bad couple of years for farmers without a permanent solution in sight.

Is your yard a food desert? I’m not asking whether you have a garden. I’m asking whether your yard supports native species of animals. Let’s take the chickadee as an example, because it has been studied recently. Carolina chickadees are native to Arkansas and live here year-round.

If you have a feeder in your yard you probably see them. But did you know that they eat insects as well as seeds? In fact, they must have insects to feed their young, or their young will die. And here’s where your yard comes into it.

Who doesn’t love hummingbirds? The hummingbird is the only bird that can fly backwards and even upside down, and they have a larger brain to body ratio than any other animal, including us. The ruby throat-ed hummingbird is the only species native to Arkansas. They arrive in March, raise two broods, and leave in September.

Have you ever seen a distinctive orange, black, and white monarch butterfly? April brings monarchs north to Arkansas from Mexico. A female will lay a single egg on the underside of a milkweed leaf. The caterpillar that hatches will molt five times before it forms a chrysalis. Out will hatch a butterfly, who will mate and continue the next part of the migration north, as far as Canada.

Daniel Breen / KUAR News

Inside a squat, brick building set among roughly 800 acres of row crops, a mix of scientists, local growers and Arkansas Plant Board members prepare to get a look at an all-too-familiar problem.

They'll be touring the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture's Northeast Research and Extension Center in Keiser, near the banks of the Mississippi River. Plant Board Chair Greg Hay prepares the group for what they're about to see.

An example of a farmer harvesting soybeans.
Creative Commons

Storms associated with Hurricane Barry are posing problems for Arkansas farmers. Agricultural officials had concerns that heavy rain and winds would damage rice crops, but are now more concerned about damage to soybean crops. Jarrod Hardke, extension rice agronomist with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, says weather over the weekend was not as damaging to rice crops as originally feared.

National Weather Service

The remnants of Hurricane Barry are forecast to move into Arkansas on Sunday. Agriculture officials are concerned the heavy rainfall could be detrimental to the state’s rice crop, which has already been hampered by a wet spring and recent hot weather.

Jarrod Hardke, extension rice agronomist for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, says the crop is extremely vulnerable at this point and that rain could disrupt pollination. 

An example of a farmer harvesting soybeans.
Creative Commons

Between President Trump's tariffs on China and an unusually rainy Spring, soybean farmers in Arkansas are bracing for less product and less profit.

Governor Asa Hutchinson
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson says he is "anxious for success" as the U.S. negotiates with China over trade tariffs. The escalating trade war has rattled markets, with soybean prices falling to their lowest levels in a decade.

"We’re praying that the president will be successful in these negotiations," Hutchinson said in an interview with KUAR News.

Jacqueline Froelich / KUAF

The Arkansas Natural Resources Commission would be the sole state agency responsible for regulating livestock waste under a bill passed by the state Senate Tuesday.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, would shift the responsibility of regulating liquid animal waste to the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission.

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Arkansas is expected to get a break from an unusually wet winter, but it may not be enough of a break for farmers.

Some Arkansas counties have received two to three times their average amount of rainfall over the last six months. The frequent and heavy rains have made it difficult for many farmers to work their land. Rice Agronomist Jarrod Hardke with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service says the return of cold weather could offset any relief from the rain.

Loretta Williams

Following months of consideration, the Arkansas Plant Board has voted to loosen its ban on the controversial herbicide dicamba.

In an eight-hour meeting Wednesday, the board voted to move the cutoff date for spraying the herbicide from April 15 to May 25. A group of farmers had been seeking to push the date back to as late as June 15, but at the outset of Wednesday's meeting board members had been considering May 20 as a compromise.

Betsy Ward, president and CEO of USA Rice Federation, speaking at the Arkansas Rice Annual Meeting Tuesday in Stuttgart.
Arkansas Farm Bureau

The Arkansas Rice Annual Meeting took place Tuesday in Stuttgart. It’s a key event for industry and government leaders to discuss the state of agriculture.

Organizers say about 400 people attended the meeting, included several top state officials, state senators and state representatives.

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