Isaac gives drought-stricken farmers brief respite

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Several days of rain have given farmers in the nation’s midsection a welcome break from irrigating and hauling water for livestock as they contend with the worst drought in the U.S. in decades.

The remnants of Hurricane Isaac dropped several inches of rain on wide areas of Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana and Missouri as the storm trudged north. Some spots got more than a half-foot of rain.

For most farmers, the rain came too late to make a difference in their year. Corn farmers have been harvesting for weeks, and soybeans are far enough along that the rain won’t significantly improve their quality or growth.

Some farmers had rushed to bring in crops before the storm, fearing strong winds or even flash flooding could destroy what they had managed to salvage from drought.

In Arkansas, where farmers have been struggling with triple-digit temperatures and little rain, Robby Bevis, 35, saw the storm knock down several of his 150 acres of rice.

“I hate to see any of it down, but that’s not as bad of percentage as what it could have been,” he said.

The 3 inches of rain that fell on Bevis’s fields between Scott and Lonoke also cut him a welcome break from watering his soybeans. He had been planning to irrigate before the remnants of Isaac sloshed through the region late last week.

He figured the rain might have saved him $10 or $15 an acre, although “the majority of the expense was throughout the summer.”

In Illinois, Kenneth Metcalf said the storm put some water back in his well, relieving him of the burden of having to buy and haul in hundreds of gallons of water each day for his 160 head of cattle.

But Metcalf, 75, said he doubts the break will last long as the storm’s last clouds burn off and higher temperatures return, baking the area east of Springfield where he also grows corn and soybeans.

“I think we’ll be hauling water here again in a few days,” he said.

Still, it lifted his spirits to see so much rain, 4 or 5 inches by his estimation.

“I think everybody feels better,” he said, noting the rain was a start toward replenishing lakes and wells.

Farther south, Mike Campbell said he got 3 inches of rain on his farm in Edwardsville, Ill., which is about 30 miles from St. Louis. He said it was too late for it to do anything for his corn, and he had worried the storm’s winds would destroy what little he had left. But the stalks were still standing Monday morning.

“I was actually surprised at that because the stalk quality is just terrible,” said Campbell, who has been farming for 35 years.

Still, the thin, dry stalks have left him little to harvest. During one run with his combine last week, he was getting about 30 bushels an acre, far short of the 150 bushels he would hope for in a normal year.

“It sounded like the combine was shut off. There was just so little stuff going through it,” he said. “It’s the worst I’ve ever seen.”

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