Beebe: Declare county a disaster

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

CARROLL COUNTY -- Gov. Mike Beebe has asked the federal Agriculture Department for disaster determination for 13 Arkansas counties because of extreme drought that is affecting livestock and crops, reported Sen. Randy Laverty last week.

When the disaster designation becomes official, the Farm Service Agency, a branch of the USDA, will make low-interest emergency loans available to farmers and ranchers. This opportunity will also extend to farmers and ranchers in adjacent counties.

"Agriculture officials at the state and federal level all anticipate that before the season is over, most if not all of Arkansas will receive a disaster declaration," Laverty said. "Their belief is based on long-range weather forecasts that predict little if any significant rainfall for the rest of the summer."

Other counties on the disaster designation request list are Baxter, Conway, Faulkner, Fulton, Grant, Izard, Marion, Perry, Pulaski, Saline, Searcy and Van Buren.

In Carroll County, farmers and ranchers are feeling the heat. Harl and Marianna Smith, Carroll County's Farm Family of the Year last year, said it has affected their operation. They grow chickens for Tyson, run a stocker/feeder operation and grow bermuda hay on their fields near the county airport.

"We're like everyone else," Marianna said. "If it hadn't been for early hay we got up, we'd be short on hay. We're in feeder operations, and we've already had to sell off some."

She said they had to reduce the amount of cattle on their land. Fortunately, their cattle are watered with spring tanks, "and so far they are holding out. The cattle will drink them down when the water table gets low, but they recover overnight."

Still, the drought has affected their livestock numbers.

"Usually at this time of year we have 100 to 125, but we sold off 75 two weeks ago, and we're not buying any back right now."

Holiday Island Fire Chief Jack Deaton said none of the local ranchers have called him yet, but in years past some whose ponds have run dry have asked him to come and fill them with the fire truck.

He did receive one call from a woman this year who has a cistern and asked the fire department to come fill it.

"We couldn't do it because sometimes those cisterns are used for drinking water," Deaton said. "We can't give them drinking water out of the fire truck because it is not purified."

Office Manager Jim Allison of Carroll-Boone Water District said a rancher from the Beaver area came and paid to fill up a tank of water because his cattle pond ran dry.

"This is the second time I've seen this in a dry year," Allison said. "We have fire hydrants, so it's a quick load."

Many in Carroll County were disappointed this year when Rosalyn Ashley of Eureka Springs didn't put her "Blueberries for Sale" sign out at Hwy. 62 and 329.

She didn't have any blueberries for sale or to pick. The drought killed her plants.

She and her husband, Ross, who passed away in March of this year, have had their blueberry bushes for years.

"We originally started with three acres," she said, "but ended up with two good acres."

She said last year's heat and drought affected the plants, but they were able to keep them alive.

They have an irrigation system, Ashley said, but this year a part broke and they hadn't replaced it.

"The drought has killed all the plants; they're brown," she said.

Even if the plants had survived, after her husband passed, she said she can't do it by herself and has no plans to replant the bushes.

"I have no one to help me," she said.

As for the drinking water needs of Eureka Springs, Berryville, Green Forest, Harrison and their subsidiary customers served by Carroll-Boone, Allison noted the water district has drawn a record number of gallons from Beaver Lake this year.

"Last year was the previous record; we sold 254 million gallons," he said. "This year we've pulled 273,536 million gallons and sold 266,325,500 million gallons. We're up 12 million gallons. Last year we didn't have one hundred degree temperatures for the whole month of June, but we were drier last June than this. Last June we had .40 inches of rain; this year we've had .80."

He said Carroll-Boone can meet the demand, but the main worry is a line breaking somewhere.

"Everything is working superbly, and there is no indication there will be a line break, but with pumping 12 million gallons a day, it's a little stressful."

He said the last time he had checked, Beaver Lake level was down four feet from the conservation pool, or dedicated water storage, level of 1120.6 feet.

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