A wide, eastward-crawling storm that dropped up to half a foot of rain in parts of Arkansas is putting some crop planting on hold, and farmers are watching river levels as bulges of water from upstream make their way to the Gulf of Mexico.

A wide, eastward-crawling storm that dropped up to half a foot of rain in parts of Arkansas is putting some crop planting on hold, and farmers are watching river levels as bulges of water from upstream make their way to the Gulf of Mexico.

“I saw tractors running in the bottoms yesterday, but that’s all stopped today,” Jim Crow, executive director of the Woodruff County Farm Service Agency, said Wednesday. “The rain has finally come.”

Woodruff County is on the eastern side of the White River about halfway between the center of the state and Memphis, Tenn. The river gauge at Augusta was reading 26.8 feet shortly after noon on Wednesday, with a rapid rise to 29.5 feet expected by Friday. Flood stage is 26 feet.

The river is expected to exceed 30 feet by Saturday and crest at 31.5 feet on Sunday.

Crow said he was sure that most growers had moved equipment out of the bottomland.

“Anything over 30 feet and the water starts to cover the road and backing up into the fields,” he said. “What’s going to put the river up is what’s filling it up from Mountain Home into the Branson area. That’s all part of the White River drainage area.”

According to the National Weather Service, the Cache River at Patterson was at 10 feet Wednesday, 2 feet above flood stage. The Ouachita River at Thatcher Lock was expected to exceed flood stage on Thursday.

Six inches of rain have made a change in the landscape along the Red River in southwest Arkansas. In the southern part of the state, planting began the last week of February.

“The farmland along the river bottoms, a lot of it looks like lakes,” Joe Vestal, Lafayette County extension staff chair for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said Wednesday morning. “It’ll take awhile to get it off the fields,” and that’s where the worry lies.

Vestal said the Red River will also be taking all the water that northeast Texas and southwest Oklahoma have received with this storm, slowing drainage. Most of the county’s bottoms are planted with corn. In 2011, 12,900 acres of corn were planted in Lafayette County.

“The corn is freshly planted. If the water stands on it, it might not come up,” Vestal said, adding that tight corn seed supplies may make replanting difficult.

“We’ll survive,” he said. “Farmers are a resilient bunch. If not, they’d be out of business a long time ago.”

Just east of Little Rock, farmers were just getting a handful of acres planted.

“At this point, there haven’t been a lot of acres planted,” said Keith Perkins, Lonoke County extension agent for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “We are just now in the early planting window for rice, corn and soybeans in my area.”

“With any crop, stand counts will need to be taken, which is typically one to two weeks after planting or when the soil dries out enough to consider replanting,” he said. “Replanting decisions will need to be based on the plant population at the time.”

Reassuring words

Jason Kelley, extension wheat and feed grains specialist for the Division of Agriculture, did offer some reassurance for corn growers.

Most of the early planted “corn came up good even after the 2-4 inch rain we got 10 days ago, and current weather models show less rain in the Delta than what we have gotten in western and central Arkansas,” Kelley said.

Both Vestal and Kelley had some worries for wheat, where growers had just applied fertilizer.

“An inch of rain would have been fine, however we don’t need the 6 inches of rain that has fallen or is forecast to fall in some areas,” Kelley said.

The other concern is stripe rust, which has been reported in 20 counties in the Delta and Arkansas River.

“The cooler wet weather will be helpful for the stripe rust to get going again,” he said. “The recent 80-degree temperatures for highs and 60s at night had slowed the stripe rust down.”

Warnings

Flash flood warnings were set to expire Wednesday morning, but a flash flood watch was to be in effect into the evening for Bradley, Cleveland, Drew, Faulkner, Grant, Jefferson, Lincoln, Pulaski and Saline counties.

The National Weather Service said that as of 7:00 a.m. Wednesday, Norfork and Mountain Home both reported more than 6 inches of rain.

Rainfall totals exceeding 4 inches were reported at Camden in Ouachita County, Clarkridge in Baxter County, Calico Rock in Izard County, near Conway in Faulkner County, Damascus in Van Buren, near Fordyce in Dallas County and Moro Bay in Bradley County. One-inch hail was reported in Grant County.

Flash flooding was reported at Wooster in Faulkner County and North Little Rock, and road flooding was reported in Baxter County. The National Weather Service said it also received reports of collapsed mobile homes at Midway in Baxter County, and near Damascus in Van Buren County.

Damage

Morrilton in Conway County was hit hard, with wind damage covering an area six to eight blocks long and two blocks wide, according to the report to the National Weather Service.

Among the casualties in Morrilton was the Conway County Fair grounds, according to Alicia Hugen, Conway County extension staff chair.

“There were power lines down all around there,” she said. The “commercial exhibit building was badly damaged, and a hamburger stand collapsed.”

Fair Board President David Duffle said the full extent of the damage was being sized up on Wednesday, but that everything will be up and running by the 2012 fair in September – the 105th annual. “We have to,” he said.

Nearly 1.5 inches of rain fell at the Hot Springs Airport, a new record. The 2.5 inches that fell at North Little Rock broke the old record of 2.1 inches.

Nathan Stone, extension fisheries specialist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said: “if they can safely do so, farm pond owners should check pond spillways and overflow pipes to make sure they are not clogged with leaves or other trash.

“A clogged spillway could lead to water overtopping the dam levee, possibly leading to dam failure,” he said Wednesday.

Silver lining

In Benton County in the state’s northwest, one of the few areas that still had a drought designation as of March 13, the rain was welcome.

“The ground sponged it up pretty good,” said Robert Seay, Benton County extension staff chair for the division. Like Vestal, the rain has changed the landscape.

“We’re two weeks ahead of schedule in temperatures, but the lack of moisture was holding us back,” he said. “This rain has really changed things overnight. Trees, everything is just busting out at the seams.”

A list of resources for cleaning up after a flood are located at http://www.uaex.edu/news/pressroom/storm_recovery/default.htm.

The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture and offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, marital or veteran status, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

Mary Hightower is with the Cooperative Extension Service at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.