Rice planting near record pace in April

by George Jared ([email protected]) 829 views 

Arkansas is the nation’s top rice producer and during the last several growing cycles planting has started slowly. This has been due to the unusual weather and heavy rains that have pelted the state. Not this year.

Rice growers, particularly in northeastern Arkansas, are far ahead of schedule. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the state’s growers had planted 33% of their 1.2 million planned rice acres as of mid-April, about two-thirds better than the five-year average of 20% for this point in the season.

Jarrod Hardke, extension rice agronomist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said USDA’s estimate is likely conservative.

“Based on conversations with agents and growers and my own observations, I thought we were pretty close to 40% planted on Monday (April 24),” Hardke said. “By Wednesday (April 26), I realized I was probably underselling it. At this point, we could be bumping 60% planted rice acreage by the end of the (last) week.”

Although much of the region has experienced substantial rainfall and tornadoes throughout the spring, the northeastern corner of the state has seen more moderate rains that have managed to keep soils moist without bringing work to a halt, he said.

“Growers up there got a lot of land preparation done in the fall, so they were ahead of the game anyway,” Hardke said. “With the lighter rains, they’ve been able to keep hammering away. There are a lot of growers up there who are either done planting rice or are about to be.”

Of course, that has not been everyone’s experience. While rice growers in the central-east corridor made substantial progress early in the season, heavy rainfall and tornado-related destruction slowed and even reversed progress for those growers. Planting progress in the southeastern corner of the state has also slowed significantly in the last two weeks.

Hardke said that while this year’s rice planting is far ahead of the five-year average at this point, it’s still not in the top three years over the past decade.

“Now, if by next Monday, we’ve jumped another 25%, we’re going to be in the neighborhood of some of the absolute fastest planting we’ve ever had,” he said. “You might call this extraordinary progress.”

A typical side-effect of a successful early-plant year is that growers will expand rice beyond their original planned acreage. Hardke said that growers seem to be acquiring additional seed where available.

“In any given year, our final acreage for long-grain rice will go back to what kind of April we have. And so far, it’s been a pretty good one,” he said. “Barring a major stoppage, I think we could hit 1.4 million acres of rice planted.”

While there are no inherent drawbacks to completing planting quickly, Hardke said aggressive planting earlier in the season can lead to management challenges when harvest approaches.

“Guys are planting anything and everything they can get in the ground right now,” he said. “They’ve been planting rice, beans and corn. Some guys are completely done with all three crops already. The issue is going to be managing all of those crops in a timely manner during the season, and then getting them all out at harvest when they begin to stack on top of each other. They’ll be some interesting dynamics as the season plays out,” he said.

Arkansas rice accounts for more than 47% of total U.S. rice production, with rice grown in 40 of the state’s 75 counties, primarily in the eastern half of the state. Arkansas has consistently harvested more than one million acres since 1983. It has a more than $1 billion impact on the state’s economy.