The planting season is about to begin in Northeast Arkansas, and the weather and international trade strife that have plagued the sector in recent years remains eerily similar in 2020. The trade war with China still hasn’t been resolved, and the winter weather pattern of intermittent rains with little or no drying periods, continues to challenge producers.
When it comes to deciding between planting rice, soybean or other crops in 2020, it’s not just a question of markets and futures contracts. For many growers, it’s a question of when the ground will be dry enough to work, according to the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.
Rice agronomist Jarrod Hardke said one bright, if ironic, spot may be that the mass of prevented planting in the 2019 growing season did at least leave some fields prepared for planting in 2020.
“If you see yourself a field ready for planting right now, chances are, that happened last summer,” Hardke said.
The wet weather has made it more difficult and time-consuming to provide accurate recommendations based on soil testing.
“A large percentage of the samples that came into the soil testing lab this year were pretty muddy,” Hardke said. “A big concern with a wet sample is that it’s harder to be precise in your depth. The process also takes longer, because those samples take longer to dry out before they can be tested.”
Kevin Lawson, Faulkner County Cooperative Extension chair, said growers throughout the Arkansas River Valley are particularly concerned about the flooding potential that has increasingly reared its head in recent years, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in crop losses.
In late May 2019, the Arkansas River flooded, causing a major levee break near Dardanelle. The Lollie levee in Faulkner County topped, but managed to hold.
If farmers have problems planting rice, a reliable alternative has always been soybeans, but that might not be the case this year. Depressed commodity prices have made it less attractive to plant soybeans. While the signing of the first phase of a trade agreement with China did initially raise hopes of a revitalized export market for the state’s top crop, soybean and grain markets continue to be lukewarm as reports that the spreading coronavirus may reduce China’s overall demand for agricultural products. China is the world’s top importer of soybeans.
Lawson said that while growers will naturally gravitate toward the best market prices when allocating their crop land for planting, he advised them to stick with their regular crop rotations for the sake of their long-term viability.
NEW RICE VARIETY
For rice farmers, the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture has licensed two commercially released rice varieties to a seed company. The new breeds won’t be available this planting season, but they will be marketed to growers in time for the 2021 growing season.
The long-grain rice varieties, RU1701081 and RU1701084, will be available from Erwin-Keith Inc./Progeny Ag, based in Wynne.
“RU1701081 has traditional long-grain cooking quality, low chalk and can withstand the common rice blast races,” said Dr. Karen Moldenhauer, rice breeder for the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, the research arm of the Division of Agriculture. “It has a very similar yield to LaKast.”
Moldenhauer, an expert in rice breeding who earned her Ph.D. in plant breeding from Iowa State, said RU1701081 was not released because it would have duplicated the advantages available from Jewel. She has served as the chair of the Arkansas Rice Industry in variety development.
“RU1701084 is a very high yielding variety, but not very different from Diamond, which had just been released. Again, it’s a very good variety with lots of data and it is also being made available to those who might want it,” she added.
Some rice breeding lines are advanced right to the brink of release as public varieties, said John Carlin, director of the Arkansas Crop Variety Improvement Program. But, like RU1701081 and RU1701084, they are not released as public varieties because they perform similarly to existing public varieties. They remain in the breeding program where they may offer genomic contributions to other breeding lines but are otherwise shelved.
Some of those lines, however, offer particular advantages for growers in some growing areas.
“We’ve decided to offer some of these breeding lines as commercially released varieties, under exclusive license to a single company, for two reasons,” Carlin said. “They offer growers more options in some parts of the state, and offering them for license helps recoup some of the investment we’ve made in advancing them to this stage of development.”
The division sells its public rice varieties at cost to many seed companies that, in turn, sell them to growers. Carlin said the Division of Agriculture receives no royalties from public varieties.
Erwin-Keith Inc. will rename and market the rice seed under the Progeny Ag label, said Nathan Cook, general manager. “These will be the first rice seed products we sell with our own brand,” he said.
Progeny Ag is the seed brand for Erwin-Keith Inc., Cook said. The company has long offered its own brands of soybeans, corn and wheat. It also sells other brands of rice seed, including U of A System Division of Agriculture public varieties.
Erwin-Keith Inc./Progeny Ag was selected as the distributor for the commercially released varieties based on proposals submitted by several seed companies, Carlin said. The Division of Agriculture’s Foundation Seed Program will produce foundation seed annually for RU1701081 and RU1701084, Carlin said. Erwin-Keith Inc./Progeny Ag will purchase the foundation seed and grow certified seed from it for sale to rice growers.
Developing rice varieties — which take years of crossing, testing and advancing — is costly, Carlin said. Offering some advanced lines as commercial varieties to growers who can use them will help recover some of that cost.
The royalties from the sale of RU1701081 and RU1701084, and other varieties that may be released later, will be divided between the Division of Agriculture’s rice breeding and research program and the Arkansas Rice Research and Promotion Board, which helps fund rice breeding and research with rice check-off money.
“Many years ago, the producer community realized the value of research,” said Roger Pohlner, ARRPB chairman. “They initiated the rice check-off program to fund research for better yields and more economical production practices as well as market promotion to enhance the price realized for their crops in the market place.
Pohlner said the money the rice board receives from commercially released varieties will go right back into the program.
“The Rice Research and Promotion Board intends to use these proceeds to fund additional research that accomplishes the objectives of the board and meets the needs of rice producers in the state of Arkansas,” Pohlner said.