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Dry farms, cattle ranches prompt request for Arkansas-wide disaster designation

by Cristina LaRue | July 19, 2022 at 6:44 a.m.
Man's hand showing the dried grass without rain for a long time. Closeup. Hot summer season with high temperature. Low humidity level. Environmental problem. Global warming. drought tile south grass drought dry land tile / Getty Images

Drought conditions in Arkansas this summer have prompted Gov. Asa Hutchinson to ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a disaster designation that covers the entire state.

The request was included in a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, dated Friday.

Arkansas Secretary of Agriculture Wes Ward said in a tweet Sunday that it was "heartbreaking" to see the damage and hear personal stories of events he saw firsthand in Ash Flat, in Sharp County.

A group of cattle ranchers met with Ward at the Ash Flat livestock auction Saturday. The meeting included some state legislators and a few of their staff members. Ward explained disaster assistance programs and took questions from producers, state agriculture department officials said Monday.

Some producers said they had to sell cattle because they did not have enough hay or water, or in some cases, had to sell their entire herds. A tour of a nearby pastureland experiencing drought put the issue into clearer perspective, officials said.

Arkansas is either abnormally dry or experiencing drought conditions in all 75 counties.

The National Weather Service expects above average temperatures and very little, if any, rain for at least the next two weeks across most of the state, department officials said.

Roughly two-thirds of the state is abnormally dry, while moderate drought conditions persist across the Delta region and the entire northern part of the state, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

As of Monday afternoon, burn bans were in place for 62 of the state's 75 counties.

Prolonged hot and dry conditions in Arkansas this summer have put significant strain on area growers this summer.

Agriculture is the largest industry in the state and contributes more than $19.4 billion to the local economy each year. Food and agriculture production in the state supports nearly 500,000 jobs.

In late May, USA Rice called on Vilsack to release $400 million in direct relief to aid rice growers after all farmers began seeing higher farming input costs for fuel and fertilizer in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine in spring.

Almost one month later, USA Rice Federation Sustainability Committee Chair and Newport rice farmer Jennifer James said current estimates show U.S. rice acres will decline by 27% this year compared to last year.

Arkansas farmers, particularly those who grow water-loving crops like soybeans and rice, have felt a pinch from higher diesel fuel costs to power irrigation systems for row crops.

Now that Hutchinson has made a request for a disaster designation, the USDA Farm Service Agency can create a loss assessment report. If the report shows a 30% production loss of at least one crop in the state, it can be submitted to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Vilsack is authorized to designate counties as disaster areas and make emergency loans available to producers dealing with crop or livestock losses in those counties, as well as affected growers in counties that share a border with a designated county, Department of Agriculture officials said.

Emergency loans and other Farm Service Agency disaster assistance programs have historically used disaster designations as an eligibility trigger, department officials said.

The USDA Livestock Forage Disaster Program is also available to producers in counties that are in severe drought for eight consecutive weeks or in a higher drought intensity value as reported in the U.S. Drought Monitor, department officials said.

Portions of Randolph, Sharp and Fulton Counties in northeast Arkansas are in severe drought. Several counties in the Delta, northern and southwestern regions are in moderate drought.

Print Headline: State seeks farm disaster designation


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