Friday, September 21, 2012

Weathering a drought, with a little help from the gov

Over the summer, I noticed a number of stories about the drought in my hometown paper, the Newton County Times.  Many seemed based on USDA press releases about services available and tips for farmers as the drought unfolded.  I thought I would catalog them here, in part to provide an opportunity to consider the extent to which government programs have much relevance to a persistent poverty county where most farming is done on a small scale.
  • Drought management meeting set for August 16.  "Cattle producers struggling with intensifying drought learn about management and tax options August 16 at North Arkansas College.  This year's drought it really forcing cattle producers to seek out alternative sources of feed, while trying to keep an eye on the bottom line to survive in to the another season," said Mike McClintock, Boone County extension agent for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.  "We want them to be able to show producers the options available to them." 
  • Beebe calls hay emergency.  "Gov. Mike Beebe declared a state of emergency to assist ranchers who are having trouble with feed supplies.  A release from the administration said that the order was "intended to help Arkansas ranchers whose feed supplies are running critically low.  It allows temporary authorization of special permits to transport hay bales.  The load must not exceed 12 feet in width, and the AHTB will have jurisdiction in picking routes.  The order is in effect for 30 days, depending on conditions."  
  • Various local water associations called public meetings in August and Sept. to discuss water shortages associated with the drought and with a change over in water supplies to nearby Bull Shoals Lake.  The Mockingbird Hill Water Association has been in dire straits for the past two summers, trucking in water in "water buffalo" trucks.  Over Memorial Day weekend this year I dined at a restaurant in the Mockingbird Hill area that had absolutely no water, even for serving guests.  I can't imagine what was going on the kitchen on that busy Sunday or what the clean up was going to look like later, presumably with water trucked in to clear the mess.  Meanwhile, the Nail/Swain Water Association issued a boil order in mid July because of the possibility that unsafe water entered the lines due to a water pressure loss.  The National Guard delivered water to the community during a period when the association's well was broken.  Deer Water Association users are among those being urged to conserve.
  • Conservation program for farmers, ranchers.  "Due to a lack of moisture, over an extended period of time, producers in Boone and Newton counties have suffered from the effects of severe drought conditions.  Farms and ranches experiencing sever drought conditions may be eligible for cost-share assistance under the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP).  This disaster program is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Farm Service Agency (FSA), which provides cost-share assistance if the damage is so severe that water availability for livestock or orchards has been reduced below normal to the extent that neighbor can survive without additional water.  A producer qualifying for ECP assistance may receive cost shares not to exceed 75 percent of the cost of installing eligible temporary measures.  Cost sharing for permanent measures is based on 50 percent of the total eligible cost.  Cost-share assistance is limited to $200,000 per person or legal entity per natural disaster.  Approved practices may include:
    • Constructing and deepening wells for livestock water
    • Developing springs or seeps for livestock water
    • Seeding annuals, wheat, ryegrass, rye, triticale for temporary pastures
    • Installing pipeline or other facilities for livestock water or existing irrigation systems for orchards. 
  • Finally, the August 29, 2012 issue of the paper holds out some "good news"--the approach of Hurricane Isaac and the prospect of rain, although the headline is "Residents urged to prepare for visit from 'Isaac.'"  Another story in that issue is headlined "Weather pattern change detected" and it reports:
Tiny green strands of grass--and some hope--are reappearing in spots around Arkansas as the most intense level of drought retreats slightly in the U.S. Drought Monitor Map released Thursday.  Rain has fallen--a hint that Arkansas' weather pattern is becoming more fall-like--and at least one place, Little Rock Air Force Base, saw a record low of 61 [degrees] on Wednesday.  Exceptional drought declined to 45.3%, down from last weeks 53.6%, its broadest reach so far this year.  The exceptional drought area includes all the counties on the Missouri border, with its southern boundary making a big "U," running through Washington, Crawford, Franklin, Scott, Yell, Garland, Saline, Pulaski, Lonoke, Prairie, Woodruff, Cross, Poinsett, Craighead, and a piece of Mississippi counties.  
That area certainly includes Newton County, one county south of the Missouri line.

An editorial in the July 18, 2012 issue of the paper is headlined "Drought conditions bring out the best in people," and it notes that the USDA had just declared 69 of Arkansas's 75 counties a disaster area because of the drought.  Newton County, the editorial notes, has received only 20 inches of rainfall in 2012, with just  five inches in June and less than an inch to date in July.  The editorial observes the "significant impact' this is having on "farm water wells and also on the rural water associations.  Most rural water users are conserving their water for drinking and fire protection."  Noting that the average Arkansan uses more than 80 gallons of water a day, it continues with this suggestion of an old-timer/newcomer dichotomy:
Many longtime residents of Newton County know the true value of water.  Those who have become accustomed to unlimited flow from a household tap and take it for granted may have to learn the hard way. 
In his regular column, the Ag Extension agent advises early evaluation of pastures to determine how many animals they will support.  In addition, he suggests early weaning of calves, lambs and kids to help lower the nutritional needs of their mothers; culling "unproductive or non pregnant females"; estimating feed needs and securing feed early; rotational grazing to force livestock to consume more and waste less.  The advice, offered in mid-July, was based on the assumption of no additional rain until September.

In other federal food news,  
  • Ozark Opportunities, Inc., announced distribution of USDA foods hat may include canned apricot halves, mixed fruit, cream style corn, spinach, sliced potatoes, tomato sauce and beef stew to low-income households of Newton County beginning Tuesday, August 14 and continuing until food supplies are exhausted.  The distribution site is 506 W. Court Street in Jasper.  Foster children, households receiving food stamps or who meet income eligible guidelines are eligible.  The story notes that "Registration for Commodity Foods may be completed on the date(s) of distribution and is required by all clients to receive commodities."
The paper has also reported various Newton County Fair events throughout the month of August, including the donation of a dozen benches by a young man who made them for his Eagle Scout project.  Impressive to know that there are any Eagle Scouts in Newton County--indeed, that the county has a troop.  
In other weather and water related news:
  • Wildfire battled near Boxley.  "About 7 1/2 acres were burned in a wildfire last week that endangered National park Service Land in Newton County, according to a press release from the National Park Service.  The fire started on Tuesday, July 24.  National Park Service helicopters were dispatched to help fight the fire.  
  • Water rates doubled at Compton.  Past expenses have caused Compton water users' bills to practically double.  Compton Water Association Board vice President Wanda Roudabush said her average monthly bill had jumped from $27 per month to $47.  Roudabush blamed the jump in water rates on expenses gong back before the current board took office in 2010.  Specifically, she said the board is paying off legal expenses stemming from a past-due wholesale water bill that originally totaled $97,000.  That amount has been paid down to $13,000.  The money is also going to pay for major repairs and maintenance on the water system, including the water storage tank.  
Meanwhile, Weldon Fowler, who appears to be in his 70s, is pictured on the front page of the Newton County Times August 1, 2012 edition, with two Cherokee heirloom tomatoes he grew this summer that boast a total weight of 5 lbs.  The caption says Fowler "has been able to grow produce this summer when others might have given up.  ... He was able to can about 50 quarts of peaches and make 14 quarts of apple sauce." 

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