Even as Irma Loses Punch, Farmers Race the Wind

by Kyle Massey  on Tuesday, Sep. 12, 2017 3:39 pm   2 min read

Less than two weeks after facing the remnants of Hurricane Harvey, DeWitt farmer Tom Jacobs was back in his corn and rice fields Monday and Tuesday, racing the winds and rain stirred by what's left of Hurricane Irma.

Jacobs, who plants some 1,200 acres of Delta land and had only about a quarter of his crop harvested by noontime Tuesday, was among hundreds of east Arkansas farmers working from dawn to dark to coax yields out of fields at risk of being flattened by rain and wind.

Irma brought brief heavy rain and wind gusts of up to 25 miles per hour in the Pine Bluff area Tuesday afternoon, and Jacobs feared results similar to the effects of Harvey's 25-mph gusts early last week.

"We are rushing to get the corn in, but wind damage makes it a slow process," Jacobs told Arkansas Business on Tuesday. "Harvey blew down a lot of corn, and when it's flattened down, instead of harvesting at 4 miles per hour you're running at about 1 mile an hour, because the stalks are blown down and tangled. You get much less in yield and you can end up tearing up your harvesting machines."

Jacobs said flattened corn fields yield at best three-quarters of what they would if they were standing tall. 

"It's the same thing with rice, but we're more used to picking rice up off the ground if we have to," he said. "It depends on how low it's been beaten down and how much rain there is. If it gets below a certain point, you're losing money because you're leaving a lot of grain in the field."

When what was left of Harvey blew through Arkansas, a wind gauge on Jacobs' acreage recorded a peak gust of 54 miles per hour. "We had sustained winds of say 35 miles per hour," he said.

Irma seems to be weakening more quickly than Harvey did, and Tuesday afternoon's forecasts for eastern Arkansas called for sustained winds of little more than 10 mph.

In northeast Arkansas, which was considered more directly in the path of Irma, rice farmers like Carlos Eason in Greene County were charging ahead with the harvest Monday and Tuesday, even though the 35-mph winds they feared were beginning to look less likely. The threat had left him and his employees "working overtime just in case," he told KAIT-TV of Jonesboro. He said even if fiercer winds came, he would have more than a quarter of his crop in.

Jacobs, a fifth-generation farmer, said he had broken two plastic snouts that direct corn cobs into his harvester. 

"If the corn gets beaten down below a foot high, you can't pick them up with a header and they're just gone," he said.



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