Silty land worries farmers, agricultural future questioned

By Keith Boles - bio | email feedback

RANDOLPH COUNTY, AR (KAIT) - Flood waters can tear up homes, break levees and move massive amounts of dirt and silt into once farmable fields.

Randolph County levee breaks have spread sand far, wide and deep. What can farmers do with all the excess and not readily farmable new top soil? Will they be able to recover, or are these sandy fields ever going to be useable again?

I walked on a squishy sandy soil that reminded  me of the beaches I used to visit in Oregon when I was a kid. But it's not, it's a rice field in Randolph County. Just to the North the "40 Foot Hole" levee break water rippled in the wind.

Mike Andrews the Randolph County Extension Agent showed me a farm field that looked like the bottom of a dry river bed.

Andrews, "It Just scoured off and sand deposited in lots of places. But we should be seeing rice growing 6 to 8 inches tall in this field right now."

A nearby breach in the levee, although not the biggest, allowed enough water through to take off the top soil and replace it with several feet of sand.

This field had just been precision leveled and now it will have to be done again at a huge cost.

Andrews, "I've talked to this particular farmer and he estimated a hundred thousand dollars to get it back in shape to plant." There is some sand in the soil in parts of Randolph County.

Andrews, "I've talked to a few farmers that may try to scatter an inch you know across several hundred acres to get rid of it but otherwise we may just have to haul it off somewhere." More added expense and that still leaves a huge hole in the levee. Andrews said he didn't think the field we were visiting would probably be farmed this year.

Dave Smith had about a 1000 acres go under that wasn't supposed to. "This rice field will have to be completely re-done." he said, "We've got 3 and 4 foot sand dunes on it that we're gonna have to put somewhere. We probably got approximately a 10 acre sand dune out there and lots of little washes and things but I'm just not sure where we're gonna put all this sand at. That old beach sand won't grow nothing you know."

The Highway Department is digging out a drainage ditch on Smith's property that was choked with sand. But that just leaves more sand in the field  to be hauled off.

And the impact will not just be for this season.

Smith, "You know where this sand was. I figure it will take several years to get that back to growing good productive crops."

Looking through the water which still has a bit of a current to it you can see rice grains laying on the sand. Some seeds have already sprouted but won't be able to produce anything.

Smith, "I don't know if we'll even get to put a crop in on this farm or not. You know especially with it keeping on raining."

Smith says this could be a decisive year for farmers in the area. "If it don't put them out this year it will put them in a very vulnerable spot, you know." Smith says he does have some crop insurance but hasn't been contacted by them to hear what they can do for him.

Smith says he does have some contracts to fill this year.

Smith, "We haven't got our rice contracted but we have our corn contracted. We went ahead and planted it all back and will hope for the best."

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