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Governor Beebe's Weekly Column and Radio Address: Floods, Drought and Fires

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In Arkansas, we have become accustomed to dealing with the aftermath of natural disasters, but this year has produced an unusually potent combination of severe-weather devastation month after month. The mixture of floods, drought and fires has been especially tough on our agricultural sector. We're still a few months away from knowing the full impact these intense weather patterns have had on our crops, livestock and timberlands, but I want to update you now on what we know so far.

The historic floods of this spring damaged some crops and delayed planting of others. The University of Arkansas calculates the actual net-income losses for our six main row crops at $335 million. Those crops include soybeans, rice, cotton, wheat, corn and sorghum. When other costs and values are factored in, the total impact to the state economy is more than a half-billion dollars - so far. Late plantings, necessitated by floods, may result in additional losses because of greater risks from pests and disease, and the increased susceptibility of damage to those crops in fall weather.

After the flooding rains, nature's pendulum swung completely in the other direction, leaving us with too little rain through the first part of the summer. The drought has been especially harsh to hay farmers, leaving less than a fifth of hay crops in good condition. The combination of record high temperatures and low rainfall is significantly raising irrigation costs and could damage the quality of our rice harvests, as well.

Ranchers face their own problems brought on by hot, arid conditions. The poor hay yield in Arkansas is compounded by short supplies in other states. Ponds used to water cattle are drying up, and inadequate water and forage are causing some ranchers to cull their herds. Dry pastures are also at higher risk for pest infestations, and dairy cattle produce less milk during the record-breaking temperatures we've experienced.

State officials continue to work closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Farm Service Agency, and we will work to secure any and all disaster assistance for our farmers and ranchers. Arkansas agriculture has proven resilient for 175 years, and we will get through this tough year as well.

Meanwhile, the Arkansas Forestry Commission is fighting an unusually intense outbreak of summer wildfires. In June and July, crews fought 483 fires, three times the total that broke out during those same months in 2010, which was considered an average year. The approximately 5,000 acres burned by this year's fires dwarf the 2010 total. Many of these fires are being fought in the record-shattering high temperatures, and crews are often battling heat exhaustion.

This past week has brought a much needed respite from the record-setting summer, and I am hopeful that more temperate conditions will continue through the season's final month. As always, Arkansans are looking out for each other during this difficult summer, and our state agencies will continue working to support our farmers, growers and ranchers, while protecting our timberlands and other natural resources.


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