National Briefs: Drought grows in Arkansas

Wisconsin State Farmer


National briefs


Idaho's wine grape crop rebounds

A November 2014 freeze sharply reduced the amount of wine grapes available last year, but growers and vintners say the 2016 yields are 50 to 100 percent above last year's, making the harvest slightly larger than normal, reported The Capital Press.

Some growers told the Capital Press that they won't finish picking the remainder of the crop because they've already harvested plenty of grapes.

"Most of the wineries ran out of tank space," said Ron Bitner, who owns Bitner Vineyards in Caldwell and let about 10-15 percent of his crop go to the birds. "I wish I could have got it all but I'm happy with what I got. I got more than I needed."

Bitner said it wasn't just an abundant harvest, but a flavorful one.

"All the numbers were good: acids, sugars, flavors," Bitner said. "All the good things you want to have. It's one of the best vintages I've had personally."

Winemaker Martin Fujishin, the owner of Fujishin Family Cellars in Caldwell, said it took a lot of work for growers to get vines back in shape after the 2014 freeze, but things seem to have rebounded.

"It looks like all the growers bounced back pretty well and all the vines are coming back healthy," Fujishin said. "This year, everything looks like it's pretty much back to normal."

The comeback has been aided by the weather, which has been favorable for grapes, according to Idaho Wine Commission Executive Director Moya Shatz-Dolsby.

"It was a great growing season; we weren't hit with any sort of problems," Shatz-Dolsby said.


Drought continues to grow in Arkansas

More than 86 percent of Arkansas is in some form of drought ahead of a warm, dry winter forecast, meaning there's little chance of immediate relief.

Because of the drought, ranchers are turning to alternate sources of feed for cattle as pastureland disappears.

"Everyone is running out of grass," said Jason Needham, manager of the Southeast Feed store in De Queen, referring to pastureland for cattle. "Farmers ran later in the summer with pasture grass than before because of the earlier rains. It was pretty good until now," Needham said.

The U.S. Drought Monitor, released last week, shows 86.3 percent of the state is in some form of drought; only the far northern tier of counties are excluded. The driest areas are in southwestern Arkansas and a small portion of southeastern Arkansas, which are rated in severe drought, while an area south of a line roughly from Fort Smith to Jonesboro is in moderate drought.

Meteorologist Deborah Bathke said the drought is going to remain in Arkansas for a while. The formation of a La Nina, a cooling of the waters in the Pacific Ocean, will force weather patterns to trend farther to the north and keep most moisture-producing systems away from Arkansas, she said.

Fifteen county judges have issued burn bans and the Arkansas Forestry Commission rated the entire state as at least "moderate" for fire danger. A portion of northwest Arkansas is rated "high" for fire danger, and burning there is discouraged.

If there's going to be a drought, it's a good time for wheat farmers, who are harvesting their crops now and will be planting again in February, according to Arkansas Farm Bureau spokesman Steve Eddington.

"But we need rain for the spring," he said. "You can't plant in the dust."


Pot growers torch moldy marijuana

Huge piles of moldy marijuana in Southern Oregon are going up in smoke this fall after record rains in October took a toll on many crops.

"At first I was freaking out about how much we are losing," said Brent Kenyon, a cannabis activist who helped craft the state's rules on pot. "But I've heard a lot of really sad stories from people who lost a majority of their crops."

Kenyon estimates about 20 percent or more of his crop will be burned at his farm near White City, reports the (Medford) Mail Tribune.

Overall, this will be a tough year for growers, who faced an onslaught of russet mites in the summer and then mold in the fall, Kenyon said. The mold destroys the marijuana flowers and spreads quickly, particularly after heavy rains.

Jackson County has one-third of all commercial marijuana grow sites in the state, according to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.


Indiana health officials investigating hepatitis A cases 

Indiana public health officials want health care providers to ask patients with hepatitis A symptoms if they've recently eaten recalled strawberries.

The Indiana State Department of Health says it's part of an investigation into a multistate outbreak of hepatitis A that has been linked to frozen strawberries imported from Egypt. So far health officials in Marion, Hamilton and Hendricks counties have confirmed the strawberries were distributed at eight restaurants in the last two weeks. The health department is trying to determine if the potentially contaminated strawberries were served elsewhere in Indiana.

Health officials say anyone in those three counties who consumed a food with strawberries at a restaurant since Nov. 1 should contact local health departments for more information. Treatment is available to help prevent infection.