More than half of Arkansas in exceptional drought
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Figures released Thursday place more than half of Arkansas under the worst category of drought, an increase from last week and unwelcomed news for farmers and ranchers.
The U.S. Drought Monitor shows 53 percent of the state is experiencing exceptional drought, up from 44 percent a week ago. Another 27 percent of Arkansas is in extreme drought, the second-worst drought category. Most of the northern three-fourths of the state are enduring the most excessive drought categories.
The area of exceptional drought includes most of north and central Arkansas and part of the timberlands of southwest Arkansas.
After a mild winter and warm spring, growers were able to plant three or four weeks early, which will help farmers get their crops out of the fields earlier with less exposure to the drought.
But some farmers have already pumped their reservoirs dry and aquifers are stressed, particularly in rice country where growers have had to pump much more than usual to keep their fields flooded, said Bobby Coats, an economist with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service.
Since farmers in the Midwest generally don't irrigate, this year's water use has driven up prices for corn and soybeans, meaning Arkansas poultry producers will be paying more for feed.
The drought also dried up more than 80 percent of the state's pastureland, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, forcing cattle producers to start feeding hay in the early summer. That led to a shortage and spike in hay prices, and many producers have liquidated their herds.
Coats said that in western Arkansas, home to most of the state's cattle and poultry production, the economic effects will linger into next year.
"It's going to impact the producer, it's going to impact the community and it's going to impact the area," Coats said.