On Sunday, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, at the request of Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, participated in a flyover tour of northeast Arkansas with members of the Arkansas congressional delegation to survey flood damage in the area.
Some are saying the effects of recent flooding in the state could rival that of a similar event in 2011 that caused an estimated $500 million in losses to agriculture. Eric Wailes, distinguished professor of agricultural economics with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said an estimated 10% of Arkansas’ rice crop, or 100,000 acres, as well as corn, soybean and cotton fields, are underwater.
During late April and early May, record flooding occurred at some locations, including along the Black River at Pocahontas, Ark., and Current River at Doniphan, Ark. A portion of the Black River in northern Arkansas may remain above the flood stage into early this week, reports indicated.
Areas farther south along the Mississippi River in Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana may not experience a crest until the third week of May. River levels in some portions of these states will reach moderate flood stages and may not drop below the flood stage until nearly the end of the month, according to AccuWeather. Waters along the White River may not drop below the flood stage until the third or fourth week in May.
Wailes said he expects damages to become more extensive as the flood waters continue to move south into the state. He said significant costs are projected based on losses of planting and replanting as well as yield losses experienced due to late planting. It may take many weeks until flooded farmland is workable, but the weather may cooperate in the short term, AccuWeather said.
Hutchinson said nine lives have already been lost. This week, the Federal Emergency Management Administration plans to start doing damage assessments. Perdue noted that Farm Service Agency county directors and extension services are also conducting their own assessments. As soon as those assessments are completed, Perdue said he expects to “expedite that turnaround and declaration as quickly as possible.”
Perdue explained that President Donald Trump wanted him to get a firsthand view of the damage and said seeing that damage firsthand allows him to be a “much better advocate” in Washington, D.C.
He promised farmers in the areas all the possible resources at their disposal, including assistance from the Farm Service Agency with low-interest loans and opportunities to restructure terms of operating loans, conservation assistance through the Natural Resources Conservation Services and crop insurance, too. “We will do everything in our power to make sure your farmers continue on,” Perdue said in a press conference following the flyover.
“From the farmer perspective, I’ve been there and known the thrill of a wonderful crop and the despair of flooding and drought,” Perdue said.
Sen. John Boozman (R., Ark.) and Reps. Rick Crawford (R., Ark.) and French Hill (R., Ark.) also participated in the flyover.
Flooding expected to continue into middle May
As a surge of water continues to flow downstream, flooding will occur along the middle and lower Mississippi River through the middle of May and perhaps through the end of the month in some areas, according to a report from AccuWeather.
While some areas along streams and small rivers have borne the brunt of the slow-moving flooding disaster in recent days, communities along the Mississippi River from Missouri and Illinois to Louisiana and Mississippi will be racing against rising water over the next couple of weeks.
Torrential rain from the last weekend of April set the flooding disaster in motion. Rainfall during the middle days of last week brought a second surge and crest along small streams and tributaries of the major rivers.
This new surge of water will also prolong the rise and recession of the Mississippi River and lower portions of the Missouri, Illinois, Ohio and White rivers. The high water levels will continue to affect river navigation and port operations.
Over the weekend, it was projected that the Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau, Mo., would crest near or just shy of the record of 48.9 ft. set on Jan. 2, 2016, according to data compiled by National Weather Service hydrologists and the U.S. Geological Survey.
"No significant rain is anticipated to fall over the middle and lower Mississippi Valley” through the middle of the week, according to AccuWeather lead long-range meteorologist Paul Pastelok.
The extended rain-free weather will help some communities with damage assessment and cleanup operations, while communities around the lower Mississippi will have fair weather to prepare for the flooding to come.