Amidst uncertainty, value of checkoff is certain

by Jennifer James (Jenlovesarkrice@gmail.com) 302 views 

The 2019 rice harvest faced many challenges and obstacles. Arkansas farmers were unable to plant 26% of their expected crop — the second highest in the nation — due to adverse weather, either rain or standing water. More than 1.3 million acres of farmland went unplanted this year, over 510,000 of which was rice.

Despite the fact that planting progress was the slowest in 25 years, conditions improved after planting, resulting in average yield and quality.

Although the official state average yield remains to be seen until January, we can likely expect that number to be around 165 bushels per acre. In true Arkansas fashion, farmers were able to salvage a successful harvest.

It’s no secret that the trade war has only added to the severe uncertainty and risk that we as growers accept to put a crop in the ground. Farmers absolutely welcomed the administration’s market facilitation program (MFP), which was designed to account for a portion of the effects caused by the trade war. However, those unplanted acres do not qualify for MFP, so many growers had a significant amount of idle land not eligible for the very program that was intended to provide relief.

Although prevented plant acres didn’t qualify for MFP, farmers who carry crop insurance were able to recognize another avenue of support. Without crop insurance, many farmers would not have been able to continue based on this season’s conditions. Crop insurance is a valuable tool that protects farmers in critical situations like this year’s wet planting season.

Farmers, merchants, and millers invest in the continued development and success of our industry by contributing to the checkoff program each year. Then, the Rice Research and Promotion Board, appointed by the Governor, allocates this money to maximize our return on that investment.

Checkoff dollars fund promotion and research efforts, which in turn support farming successes. Although Arkansas is the top rice producing state in the nation, we have the second lowest checkoff investment in the country.

One tangible result of the checkoff is the Northeast Rice Research and Extension Center (NERREC). The Northeast Rice Research and Extension Center (NERREC) is located in Greenfield in Poinsett County. The 600-acre farm represents the only University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Experiment Station located in this rice production area of the Arkansas Delta. As such, it will provide rice producers on these unique soils with much needed research-based information.

The NERREC will conduct research on rice production practices that maximize farm income while conserving natural resources. In particular, maximizing water use efficiency will be a priority.

Within the NERREC, the Rice Discovery Experience (RDE) will provide a unique opportunity to educate regional youth on rice production. The RDE provides an Imagination Workspace for grade-school children to complete fun and educational activities associated with rice. The demonstration kitchen will allow these grade-school guests to experience rice from Arkansas and around the world, thus it provides an outstanding opportunity for global awareness with regard to rice production.

The NERREC will also utilize digital technologies to disseminate research-based information in formats that are widely accessible for Arkansans and provide a state-of-the-art meeting space for agricultural-related educational and corporate events. These are just a few examples of the value added to our industry that helps us maintain a competitive advantage, all enabled by the checkoff program.

Like the crops we grow, Arkansas farmers are resilient. The checkoff program is an investment in keeping Arkansas agriculture competitive. Similar to the safety net we are afforded through crop insurance, the checkoff provides a guarantee for our industry that ultimately enhances our viability and benefits every single farmer. Just as we will leave our farmland to future generations, we can also leave the legacy of success.

Editor’s note: Jennifer James farms rice, soybeans and corn in Newport and is the first woman elected to the Riceland Foods Board of directors. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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