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Spring floods cost Arkansas farmers millions in lost income

By Suzi Parker

LITTLE ROCK, Ark (Reuters) - Arkansas farmers suffered a severe blow from this spring's floods and stormy weather, with crop damage costing them $335 million in lost farm income, a study released on Monday said.

Rice crops were the hardest hit in the state, where the weather also cost the state nearly 2,150 full- and part-time jobs, according to the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture review.

"The planting window was just made too vulnerable when these floods came," university economist Eric Wailes told Reuters. "By the time the floods were over, they couldn't replant."

Arkansas ranks first among the six major rice-producing states, accounting for approximately 48 percent of U.S. rice production, according to the Arkansas Rice Federation.

Much of the rice crop planted before the floods was drowned by standing water in fields, with lost income amounting to nearly $142 million.

The study showed that based on initial estimates, economic losses because of flooding also include a reduction of about $102 million in labor income and a decline of $181 million to the gross state product.

Agriculture accounts for one in six Arkansas jobs. Wailes said the jobs lost likely won't be replaced this year. Farmers are currently facing multiple additional issues due to extreme heat and drought that followed the floods.

Crops aside from rice fared better but were still hit hard. Farming income from soybeans was expected to drop by $61 million, cotton by $44 million, and wheat by $20 million because winter wheat is planted in November. Those crops were more mature when the floods struck.

The study reported that farmers replanted three to four times as repeat storms wiped out their crops.

The floods also destroyed the land structure for farming, which meant farmers had to reshape their land. Private levees were leveled by floods and have to be rebuilt. Grain storage units were underwater for a long time, so some remaining rice from last year's crops couldn't reach the market.

Turtles, displaced from their normal habitat, also moved near rice crops and destroyed some of them after the floods.

Chuck Wilson at the University of Arkansas Rice Research and Extension Center said about 125,000 to 150,000 acres of rice were lost this year to the floods. Arkansas rice production hasn't been this low since 1987.

On the bright side, Wilson said, the floods could help put some of the stored rice stocks on the markets due to decreased supply.

(Edited by Karen Brooks and Cynthia Johnston)

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