Local farmers, ranchers struggling with extreme drought

PIGGOTT, AR (KAIT) - The spring rains never arrived for ranchers and farmers in rural Clay County.

Agriculture is the key element of this economy, but the land north of Highway 62 lies in the grips of an extreme drought.

Although the Cache and Black Rivers run through the heart of the county, water makes up less than a half-percent of total land area.

That goes to show how badly a summer rain is needed, as many farmers have picked up about a half-inch since April.

Nathan Hoggard has lived near Piggott for 41 years and has seen dry spells come and go, but he has never seen it this dry.

His pastures and cropland have been burnt by the scorching summer sun.

"We replanted these soybeans over here the first time because of the lack of moisture the first time, got a rain and replanted them but they're still not a perfect stand. But they're not going to make anything if it doesn't rain."

Some ranchers could be forced to sell their livestock if they don't find enough feed.

"Our pastures are burnt up now, we're feeding hay. There's a lot of us not going to have enough. We're going to have to come up with something."

Farmers who normally sell their hay surplus may now be looking to other counties to buy feed.

Clay County Judge Gary Howell says the prolonged drought has reduced the hay crop down to one-third of what it was in 2011.

"It's just a disaster for the livestock industry...all the way across the state. It's been days since our last rain and we only picked up a half-inch."

For ranchers and dryland farmers such as Howell and Hoggard, there's nothing they can do but watch...and pray for rain.

"You'd expect this in July or August, but not in June."

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