The Arkansas Rice Research Promotion Board has dedicated $4 million toward the construction of a rice research center in Poinsett County, University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture spokesman Ryan McGeeney told Talk Business & Politics.
The center will sit on a 614 acre swath about five miles south of Jonesboro on Arkansas 1 just over the border in Poinsett County, according to University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture interim associate director Dr. Victor Ford. How much the center will cost has not been determined, and final plans are still being formulated, he said. A timetable for work to begin on the project was not released, but officials hope the facility will be operational by 2021.
“Our immediate need is to have a research farm on the type of soils now home to rice production in northeast Arkansas,” said Mark Cochran, vice president-agriculture, for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “Being able to conduct research under conditions similar to our producers north of Interstate 40 and west of Crowley’s Ridge is critical to supporting and enhancing the Arkansas rice industry.”
Arkansas produces half the nation’s rice crop, and the majority of it is grown in a handful of counties in the northeast section of the state.
The Division of Agriculture now conducts research on rice production in Stuttgart at the Rice Research and Extension Center and at the Northeast Research and Extension Center in Keiser. Soil differences are the reason why another research facility is needed, he said.
“The soils at our Rice Research and Extension Center in Stuttgart are not the same as the mixed soils north of I-40 and west of Crowley’s Ridge, nor are they the same as the heavier clay soils closer to the Mississippi River on which we grow rice at our Northeast Arkansas Research and Extension Center in Keiser,” he said.
The land was bought with the donation, and the bulk of the project will be test plots, McGeeney said. A lot of earthwork is needed and levees will have to be built to replicate a typical rice field, he said.
“It’s a pretty big operation. … It takes a lot to build a rice paddy,” he said.
Arkansas Rice Research and Promotion Board Chairman Jay Coker said in addition to addressing the needs of farmers, the center will be a showcase for agriculture and rice in Arkansas. More than 60% of Arkansas rice is grown in the region, and farmers in Jackson, Poinsett, Mississippi, and Lawrence counties are among the top producers, he said.
“The Arkansas Rice Research and Promotion Board has recognized that there is a need to develop a research station in Northeast Arkansas,” Coker said. “Being able to develop a research farm to address the challenges that the growers and stakeholders in this area face will better allow the U of A System Division of Agriculture to bring forward recommendations and programs that will benefit all rice growers and industry.”
In other rice-related business, about 99% of the crop has emerged in the state despite chaotic weather patterns this spring. Growers have rated 70% of the crop as being in “good” or “excellent” condition, according to a June 4 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.
“The rice crop looks great at the moment, but it’s been a difficult season,” rice agronomist Jarrod Hardke said. “One of the coldest Aprils on record followed by the hottest May on record has a lot to do with it.”
April was the coolest its been in the last 30 years, and May was the hottest it has been in the last 30 years, he added.