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Record Drought Punishes Arkansas Agriculture

Record Drought Punishes Arkansas Agriculturei
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Greg Flakus
July 22, 2012
One of the worst hit drought zones in North America is Arkansas, where lack of rain threatens livestock and crops in almost every corner of the southern state. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from the fields of central Arkansas, farmers are selling off cattle and desperately hoping for a sustained period of rain to undo the damage that has been done.
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Greg Flakus

CENTRAL ARKANSAS — One of the worst-hit drought zones in North America is Arkansas, where lack of rain threatens livestock and crops in almost every corner of the southern state.  Farmers are selling off cattle and desperately hoping for a sustained period of rain to undo the damage that has been done.

Arkansas still looks very green. But the grass is short and there is not much good for animal feed.

Even as temperatures soar over 40 degrees Celsius, big white clouds float in the sky.

Occasionally they produce a downpour.

A burst of rain is very welcome here, but experts say it is not enough.

Meteorologists say more than 38 centimeters of slow, steady rain would be needed in some areas to bring them up to normal.

Lack of grass has forced cattle producers like Karen Haralson to spend more on expensive feed, and she says a recent rain has not helped. "It put just a little bit of green in the grass, but all it gave it was color, it didn't give it any growth," she said.

She has had to reduce her herd from more than 250 to around 150, leaving her with too few cattle to operate effectively in the year to come.

"To run the farm, I am going to have to have more cows than I have, so when I go to replace them there will be limited replacement, so the price will be much higher.  So it is kind of a vicious circle," she said.

In nearby Atkins, farmers gather in the Atkins International Cafe at lunchtime and reveal their woes to waitress Cindy Johnson.

"The early crops that went in, they spent on the fertilizer and all, the yields were low.  There is no moisture to put anything back in on the second round, everything is just dry and drought," she said.

In Faulkner County, Extension agent Hank Chaney says yields on most row crops, like soy beans, rice and corn, are going to be well below 50 percent this year unless rain comes soon.

"We need at least three or four days of good, slow, steady rainfall.  It would be nice, of course, if we could get a week of it, but at least that to help us soak up and for the ground to recharge," he said.

Chaney says around 30 percent of the farmers in his area have an edge on Mother Nature because they have ground water they can tap for irrigation.

These center-pit irrigation systems are expensive to buy and operate.

But Chris Schaefers, whose family owns eight of them, says they get their money back in better yields and better credit at the bank. "It sure does make them feel better, when you go to your lending officer to know that you have irrigation behind you, especially in years like this," he said.

The Schaefers will benefit from the high commodity prices that are bound to result from this year's dry conditions.

For farmers who can count on their own irrigation system, it will be a little easier to get through this drought, but everyone else is going to have to rely on Mother Nature. 

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