Farmers throughout Arkansas and especially in the Mississippi Delta Region are keeping close tabs on soybean and rice prices as the calendar inches toward the harvest.
Soybean prices have fluctuated wildly in recent months, but are projected to beat last year’s numbers, agriculture economist Scott Stiles told Talk Business & Politics. Farmers can expect to get anywhere from $9.31 to $11 per bushel, depending on when they contracted those crops, Stiles said. That’s about a 45-cent per bushel increase from 2015, according to numbers released. Industry leaders were shocked when soybean prices surged in mid-June to $11.86 per bushel.
“That was a surprise. … We didn’t expect prices to get nearly that high,” Stiles said.
Industry insiders aren’t exactly sure what caused the temporary price surge, but there were some factors that congregated around that time. Argentina’s soybean harvest was devastated earlier in the spring by epic rains, and market speculators began investing heavily in many commodities, including soybeans, Stiles said.
Many farmers already had their acres under contract before the soybean market hit its yearly high, and Stiles said he doesn’t think it will jump again. Farmers are warily watching the November futures market, hoping the prices will be good during the harvest, he said. If prices drop, some farmers may choose to store their soybeans and wait for prices to improve at the beginning of the year, he said. It’s not a common practice to keep soybeans for an extended time, but prices have been so volatile that farmers may have to take chances to improve their margins, he said.
While soybean prices are slightly up, long-grain rice prices are definitely down, Stiles said. Arkansas farmers planted 1.43 million acres of rice this spring, the most since 2010, according to numbers released. The USDA predicts rice prices will range from $4.50 per bushel to $4.95 per bushel. The median bushel sold for around $4.95 in 2015, Stiles said.
“No, the outlook for rice isn’t good in my opinion,” he said.
The problems with rice may extend beyond low prices, Craighead County Extension Agent Branon Thiesse told Talk Business & Politics. Extreme heat in recent weeks may hamper the rice crop as it tries to pollinate, he said. It’s especially harmful when temperatures remain high even at night, he said.
Official acre totals for rice and soybeans in Craighead County have not been released, but Thiesse estimates Craighead County farmers planted about 67,000 acres of rice, and about 135,000 acres of soybeans. Recent rains and a slight drop in temperatures may alleviate some of the stress on the rice crop, Lawrence County Extension Chair Herb Ginn said. The exact number of acres committed to rice, soybeans, and corn hasn’t been tabulated, he said.
“Overall, I think our crops are in pretty good shape,” Ginn said. “A lot can happen between now and the harvest, but right now I think we’re in good shape.”
Corn prices remain relatively flat, Stiles said. At their peak this year, corn sold for up to $4.25 a bushel, and most farmers will end up getting less than $4 per bushel by the end of the harvest, which is roughly the same as 2015, he said. Craighead County farmers planted about 27,000 acres of corn, according to estimates. The corn acreage in Lawrence County hasn’t been estimated, yet, according to officials.