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Farmers, ranchers in storm's path prep to avoid 'agricultural disaster'

After already experiencing a wet spring and summer, farmers and ranchers are bracing for a difficult next few days with Hurricane Laura.

ARKADELPHIA, Ark. — A wet spring and summer and now the looming threat from Hurricane Laura have farmers and ranchers across southwest Arkansas bracing for a difficult few days.

"Right now we feel like, particularly in here in southwest Arkansas, we're on a bullseye," said Vic Ford, an associate vice president with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture from his home-office in Hope.

RELATED: What Arkansas can expect from Hurricane Laura

Farming is never easy, but with a storm bearing down, agriculture experts say this part of the state is feeling the pressure. The storm was the talk of everyone who caused an unusual midweek rush at Clark County Livestock and Feed.

"If you look up and down the Red River Valley, we've got rice. We've got soybeans. We've got some cotton and we've got some corn," Ford said, before spelling out the three storm threats that each of those row crops could face.

"Cotton right now is bolling out," he said, referring to the emergence of the fluffy flowers that become our clothes. "It's beautiful cotton right now, but winds may affect and blow the bolls off the plants if they're at a certain stage."

The same goes for corn, which depending on when it was planted, could be at a height that makes it vulnerable. The huge windstorm, called a derecho, that whipped across Iowa earlier this month is fresh on every corn farmer's mind after it leveled fields and wiped out millions of dollars worth of crops.

All farmers here can do how is hope to catch a break.

"Right now, we should be harvesting corn," Ford said. "It's getting right there, so there's a lot of concern for that, and there's not a lot we can do with it. Just hopefully, we don't get the winds in the right direction from that."

Cattle ranchers and dairy farmers are also threatened by the storm, notably by the rains expected to accompany the wind. 

"Our beef cattle farmers are trying to get the cattle out of those areas," Ford said. "You'll see people moving cattle already to higher ground."

Cowboys and ranch hands hustled to move those herds while shoring up equipment. Many also had to move hay bales that could easily be swept away by flash flooding despite their huge sizes.

"This is going to delay the hay crop," said Ford. "If they haven't had that second or third cutting of hay and they're trying to count on that to get through the winter, it's going to take some while."

Count Derek Helms was among the scrambling farmers as he hustled to lay fertilizer on a field of corn that hopefully produces feed for the cows in his family's dairy farm. He and his hands had to work fast, not only ahead of the hurricane, but also because of summer thunderstorms Wednesday.

"I'm trying to get fertilizer down as fast as I can," he said while hitching up a spreader to a tractor. "I feel like that corn should be okay, but we'll just have to see."

RELATED: Laura now Category 4 storm, could bring 'unsurvivable' storm surge

That's a feeling shared by his colleagues across the region.

"Hopefully we can get things off the field and have September be dry and we can get a good harvest," said Ford.

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