Four counties in northern Arkansas have been designated as natural disaster areas by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced on Twitter on Friday.
In a letter sent to the governor, Vilsack said all four counties — Baxter, Fulton, Randolph and Sharp — suffered a drought intensity rating during the growing season of severe drought, extreme drought, or exceptional drought. , according to the US Drought Monitor.
In addition to these four counties, Vilsack said, eight other counties in Arkansas and four in Missouri that are contiguous to the four primary counties have been named contiguous disaster counties. Arkansas counties are Clay, Greene, Independence, Izard, Lawrence, Marion, Searcy, and Stone. Missouri counties named are Howell, Oregon, Ozark, and Ripley.
In the letter, Visack said a Secretariat disaster designation makes farmers in primary counties and contiguous counties eligible to be considered for certain Farm Service Agency aid, including emergency loans from the Farm Service Agency. FSA, provided the eligibility requirements are met.
Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of a disaster declaration from the secretariat to apply for emergency loans. The FSA considers each emergency loan application on its own merits, taking into account the extent of production losses on the farm and the safety and repayment capacity of the farmer.
Denise Frame, administrative assistant to Sharp County Judge Gene Moore, said conditions there were so dry that many farmers were selling livestock due to a shortage of hay.
“The man cutting our hay is missing 2,800 bales this year,” Frame said. “Last Friday they were lined up along the highway at the sales barn with people selling their cattle because there is no more pasture.”
The rain that has moved into the region over the past few days has helped, Frame said, and the promise of more rain over the weekend is a welcome change from the hot, dry conditions that have prevailed these last weeks.
“We had rain last night and the day before,” she said on Friday. “We have, I think, a little over an inch here in the Highlands region, but Sidney and Cave City have, like, 3-1/2 inches. That will help, but I don’t know if we’ll get more cut of hay.”
Jeremy Ratliff, a cattle rancher in Cave City, said he hasn’t had to sell his 300 cattle herd and has been able to keep the size of his feeder cattle herd at around 700 head, but he said the conditions forced him to get creative with feeding his livestock.
“We’re probably not even halfway through the hay we need in a normal year,” he said. “We tried to do other things. We cut corn silage and tried to do something to replace the hay we need.”
Even with 1,400 acres of pasture, Ratliff said the cost of feeding his herd was worrying. He said many of his neighbors have drastically reduced the size of their herds or sold their herds.
“When you run out of grass, things get very difficult in a hurry,” he said. “I know people who have already sold their cows or slaughtered very deeply, trying to sell enough to get through this.”
In neighboring Randolph County, conditions are much the same. County Judge Ronald Barnett said rain over the past two days has helped, but more is needed to ease the drought conditions in his county.
“It still hasn’t helped me enough to lift the fire ban,” he said.
Farmers in the county have been hit hard, Barnett said.
“Some of them have already planted their beans and some have never even planted any because it was so dry,” Barnett said. “It was so wet there in the spring that they couldn’t and when it died out, it died out. It hurts the farmers.”
Barnett said the recent rain and wet weekend forecast is a welcome change from weeks of hot, dry weather.
“The pastures are already starting to green up a bit,” he said. “I have cows too, and my pasture is much better than it was. My hillsides were all brown and had no grass on them, but they’re starting to green up a bit now. , and the bottom of my rivers makes me feel like I could get a second cut of hay out of them.”
Although recent rains have helped, officials from the National Weather Service office in North Little Rock said the relief will be short-lived as dry conditions begin to set in again. Meteorologist Travis Shelton said a frontal boundary crossing the state on Friday would bring a good chance of rain to much of the state over the weekend to accompany the recent days’ rainfall.
Over a 72-hour period ending at 7 a.m. Friday, Shelton said, Mountain Home in Baxter County received just under 4.25 inches of rain and Salem in Fulton County received slightly more. 2.5 inches. In Randolph County, Pocahontas received 1.79 inches of precipitation over the same 72-hour period, and the town of Hardy in Sharp County received 1.4 inches.
Prior to Wednesday and Thursday, Shelton said, the last measurable rainfall in Fulton County was 1.07 inches and fell on Salem on July 17. On the same day, he said, Mountain Home received 0.01 inches of rain.
Shelton said all locations in the four counties are likely to see additional precipitation over the weekend, with forecasts calling for an inch or more on average with locally higher amounts possible.
“It’s kind of a temporary relief situation,” he said. “I’m sure that will help, but we are back to warmer and drier conditions next week. By Wednesday we will be back into the upper 90s. Not as hot as we have been, but we will see a trend back in that direction.”