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Drought Information 2012

2012 Arkansas Drought Information

Please check back regularly for updated information about the 2012 Arkansas drought.

Farmers across the U.S. are fighting one of the worst droughts in U.S. history. Arkansas has been one of the hardest hit states during the 2012 drought in terms of inadequate rainfall.  According to data from the U.S. Drought Monitor, since the end of May the situation in Arkansas has gone from abnormally dry to extreme and exceptional drought across most of Arkansas.  Over 74% of the land area in Arkansas is under extreme or exceptional drought and 97% of the state is under at least severe drought. All 75 counties in Arkansas have been declared drought disaster areas by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In these areas, up to 75 percent of the grass in pastures is considered severely impacted and may not recover.  Livestock watering ponds are dry or so stagnant they are dangerous for the health of the herd.  Eighty-three percent of pastures in the state are rated as poor or very poor by the National Agricultural Statistic Service.

According to the Impact of the 2012 Drought on Field Crops and Cattle Production in Arkansas Preliminary Report by the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, Research and Extension Service (view the complete report, PDF; 360 KB) the following impacts on the following sectors are:

Arkansas Field Crops

While drought conditions are plaguing crops across the U.S., field crop production in Arkansas has much more extensive usage of irrigation than other production regions. The result is that crop production in Arkansas is capable of withstanding drought conditions that are much more destructive for crop production in other states. Warmer than normal temperatures that enabled early planting, coupled with the prevalence of supplemental water, has resulted in good plant development for Arkansas crops. Information from field reports indicates field crops have require d 1-2 additional irrigation applications due to drought conditions. Rice has required 5-10 additional acre-inches of water to maintain a desirable flood.

The crop production released by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) August 10 (NASS, 2012a) indicates that the yield and production prospects for the 2012 crop are not impacted by the prevailing drought conditions. Indications are that yields for corn, cotton, rice, and soybeans are expected to be higher than the 5-year average. Expected yield for grain sorghum is approximately equal to the 5-year average (Table 3.1). Harvesting of the 2012 wheat crop was completed before the occurrence of drought conditions. Comparing the August forecast for harvested acreage to the June forecast for planted acreage indicates that abandoned acreage is not greater than normal. There is the greatest potential for continued drought conditions to impact the soybean and cotton crops, which are not as far along in development as other crops. As discussed later, applying added irrigations is stressing ground and surface water resource availability.

Arkansas Cattle, Hay and Pasture

The inventory of all cattle and calves in Arkansas on January 1, 2012, was at its lowest level in the last 40 years at 1.67 million head (NASS, 2012d).  Since 2009, cattle numbers have declined 13% from 1.9 million head to the current level.  Last year’s hot summer and this summer’s drought has had an impact that is already reflected in more cattle on feed compared to a year ago (NASS, 2012c) as farmers with dwindling water supplies and limited access to only expensive hay are choosing to sell calves early or further reduce the size of their cow herd.  Along with corn prices this has led to some reductions in cattle prices. This price trend should be reversed eventually as a smaller herd size has led to fewer marketings of beef cattle that will shrink even further beyond 2012 as more than usual heifers will be withheld to rebuild the herd size. The timing of some of these activities will be weather and commodity price dependent.

Hay and pasture conditions have deteriorated throughout the summer in Arkansas.  According to data for the week ending August 19, 58% of alfalfa hay grounds, 82% of other hay grounds, and 85% of pastures were in poor or very poor condition. Hay production (excluding alfalfa) is forecast at 1.3 million tons which is 42% below 2011 production.  Yield is also down 44% to 0.9 tons per acre; this represents the smallest hay yield since 1953.  Pasture in these conditions indicates the need for additional feed to keep livestock on farms. Some much needed rainfall did occur across the state the week ending August 19 and pasture conditions improved slightly; however, 53% of pasture and rangeland were considered to be in very poor condition (compared to 63% the week ending August 12).


Although the symptoms may take years to show, drought can take a serious toll on Arkansas’s forests and the wildlife that lives there. Trees planted this year will probably not survive, according to the Arkansas Forestry Commission.

Drought Financial Assistance Programs in Arkansas

More than $6.6 Million in Financial Assistance Applications Preapproved for Arkansas Producers - Financial Assistance Funding by County - 2012 Drought Initiative

Top Five Practices Funded in Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program


Drought Technical Assistance Available from NRCS (Prevention, Maintenance and Recovery)

Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA) - The CTA Program provides land users with proven conservation technology and the delivery system needed to achieve the benefits of a healthy and productive landscape. The primary purposes of the CTA Program are to:

  • Reduce soil loss from erosion
  • Solve soil, water quality, water conservation, air quality, and agricultural waste management problems
  • Reduce potential damage caused by excess water and sedimentation or drought
  • Enhance the quality of fish and wildlife habitat
  • Improve the long term sustainability of all lands, including cropland, forestland, grazing lands, coastal lands, and developed and/or developing lands
  • Assist others in facilitating changes in land use as needed for natural resource protection and sustainability

This program does not include financial assistance. However, through the CTA Program, clients may develop conservation plans, which may serve as a springboard for them to enter into financial assistance and easement conservation programs provided by other Federal, State, and local programs. There are no fees or charges to the land user for this service.

Drought Related Resource Concerns and Conservation Practices that Address Those Concerns - A conservation plan looks at resource concerns on private lands and gives landowners a framework for addressing those areas. The link provides a list of resource concerns and some of the conservation practices that address those concerns.


Drought Fact Sheets and Publications


Drought News Releases


Other Drought Resources

If you need more information about assistance available from NRCS, please contact your local USDA Service Center, or your local conservation district.