Assessing the damage after Tropical Storm Laura thundered across Arkansas farms

Tropical Storm Laura - Old Farm House in Decay
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Farmers continue to calculate the size of the destruction left behind by the winds and rain.

After the hurricane left a catastrophe behind in Louisiana, it moved inland, becoming Tropical Storm Laura. From there, its high winds, downpours and tornadoes smashed through Northeast Arkansas and large amounts of farmland.

This was the first time Arkansas ever faced a tropical storm warning, said the National Weather Service.

Farmers experienced extensive damage from Tropical Storm Laura, as drone footage revealed massive sections of “lodged” or flattened plants across the rice growing regions and other largescale crops.

“Rice damage is luckily minimal,” said University of Arkansas Agriculture Extension rice agronomist Jarrod Hardke. “The damage appears worse in the south and lessens as you move north,” he explained. “The closer to harvest the field is, the worse the impact, but cultivar, seeding rate and fertility are all impacting factors.”

While rice farmers fared the best, Tropical Storm Laura caused far more damage to soybeans.

Jackson County extension staff chair, Matthew Davis, said that his county’s soybean crops suffered the greatest damage from the extreme weather. “Soybeans have a lean to them,” explained Davis. “Some that were 4 feet tall are around 2 feet tall now.”

Extension soybean agronomist Jeremy Ross added that: “What I’ve seen are fields with tall soybean plants that have a severe lean — they’re not completely flat.” This means that there is hope for those plants to recover at least somewhat. “These fields should stand back up, but not completely,” said Ross. “They will have a lean the rest of the year. There shouldn’t be any yield impact, but they will be impossible to scout.”

Jan Yingling, extension agent in White County, said that while she did see areas with leaning fields, “my farmers have told me that most everything is still standing, and they feel like they were spared.”

Unfortunately, Tropical Storm Laura was not as kind to the cotton and soybean farms closer to the Arkansas-Louisiana border in Ashley County. There, Kevin Norton, the Ashley County extension chair estimated that about 90 percent of those fields had “some degree of lodging,” and that “cotton seems to be the hardest hit.” Tropical Storm Laura - Old Farm House in DecayNorton also pointed out that “Corn is all over the board. I would estimate that 60 percent of corn acreage has some degree of lodging, ranging from 5 to 95 percent.”

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