- Associated Press - Sunday, April 6, 2014

LONOKE, Ark. (AP) - Recent sub-freezing temperatures in Arkansas may affect fruit trees, and recent rains could delay crop planting in areas where planting has not already begun, according to extension agents with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

Neal Mays, extension agent in far northwest Arkansas’ Benton County, noted that his region - known for its apple production in addition to peaches and blackberries - endured brutally cold weather, including several nights where temperatures hovered at or below zero degrees.

“For fruit crops, we will soon see how much bud injury has occurred, but the extreme cold weather very likely killed a percentage of fruit buds, which will affect yields,” he said.

Fields were left soaked after hail and rain moved through the area Thursday night and Friday morning, though the moisture is helping fill water supplies for livestock and with grass growth in northern Arkansas.

“The frequent showers we have been experiencing are a blessing in cattle country,” said Mike McClintock, extension agent in Boone County extension agent. “The grass is starting to grow and the ponds are full - we are happy.”

But the wet weather could delay planting of many crops in some parts of the state, including in the Jonesboro area. Local extension economist Scott Stiles noted that the temperatures are expected to remain chilly, with lows in the 40s.

“Looks like planting will be on hold for maybe a week, at least in this area,” he said.

In Phillips County, in eastern Arkansas, rice and soybean planting has begun, according to extension agent Robert Goodson. But he noted that it’s still early in planting season, and producers have “plenty of time yet.”

Farther south, Calhoun County extension agent Jaret Rushing said other weather factors are causing planting delays.

“The wet weather down here hasn’t been as big of a factor as the frost. Many people are behind on getting their potatoes, onions and other winter crops in the ground because the bitter cold spells we had up until two weeks ago kept killing back the forages.”

Prairie County extension staff chairman Brent Griffin said central Arkansas farmers who planted rice early are starting to see some of the crop break through the soil.

“I stopped and looked at couple rice fields,” Griffin said, “and they have sprouted.”

“When the fields do dry out, it’ll be ‘Katie bar the door’,” Griffin said. “Farmers are watching recent spikes in commodity prices to take advantage of covering production costs.”