Seed is hitting the dirt again in the Arkansas Delta, a week after rain and rising rivers put planting on hold, but with every row planted, producers are feeling the pain of higher fuel and fertilizer prices.
"Farm fuel is pushing $3.80 gallon, and considering the larger tractors hold 250 gallons and will burn that in one day – can you say 'ouch?' said Brent Griffin, Prairie County extension staff chair for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. By comparison, the March 25 average price per gallon for regular car fuel in Arkansas was $3.75, according to Arkansasgasprices.com.
"Farmers are also really concerned with the uptick in fertilizer prices over the past three weeks," he said. "Urea in our area is at $690 ton, up $175 ton in 30 days. The other sources, phosphorous and potash, are up to $650 ton, which is $150 ton higher than last year."
Areas that received 4-6 inches of rain in a short time last week drained quickly, allowing farmers to get back in the field.
"Some started over the weekend and will not let up until they're done or they get rained out," said Keith Perkins, Lonoke County extension agent for the Division. "As my dad would say, 'it's time to hit the ground running.'"
Perkins advised growers to check planter calibration to "ensure that plant populations will be most economical for the crop. Too few seeds and yield will be reduced. Too many plants means extra seed cost and may eventually lead to reduced yield and more disease problems. "
In Jefferson County, Extension Staff Chair Dennis Bailey said "the better-drained soils look good," and that he expected rice planting to be on the go this week.
Meanwhile, the record-setting spring temperatures are helping winter wheat, as well as one of its nemeses: the rice stinkbug.
"The warm weather is continuing to push winter wheat growth, with several fields already 75 percent headed", compared with the 25 percent that's more usual for this time and place, Griffin said. "We are picking up fair number of rice stinkbugs beginning to feed on flowering wheat, but still below the threshold level to apply any pesticide."
Stinkbugs are cyclical, and extension entomologists were expecting 2012 to be a peak year.
Fortunately, the stripe rust that had spread to wheat in 20 counties "is minimal at this time, due to the earlier fungicide treatments shutting the disease down in Prairie County," he said. "The race is on now that most of the wheat is headed – a stage that's too late for additional fungicide to be used if rust reappears."