Rice harvest well ahead of average; record yields possible

by George Jared ([email protected]) 738 views 

Arkansas rice farmers are well ahead of the average harvest schedule for the state and record yields are possible this season.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, 11% of Arkansas rice had been harvested by Aug. 28. That’s up from the 4% harvested this time last year and the five-year average of 5%. Jarrod Hardke, extension rice agronomist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, credits good conditions in early April.

“We had a dry, warm start to April of this year,” Hardke said. “We’re coming off of a spring where we finally made substantial early planting progress for the first time in several years. A lot of rice and many other crops were planted fairly early this year.”

Timely rains and consistent temperatures in the spring and summer aided producers.

“The majority of the summer, from a production standpoint, we had really good conditions,” Hardke said. “For most of it, temperatures ranged in the mid- to low-90s – those are the temperatures that drive progress. We got some rain in the middle of the summer that really helped with irrigation efforts. But like with any crop, those mid-summer rains never come without penalty and that penalty was increased disease pressure.”

In addition to increased disease pressure, early season weed control proved to be difficult, and high temperatures stressed some rice.

“I wouldn’t say May and June went particularly smoothly — we had plenty to fight,” Hardke said. “In late April, conditions turned cool and wet, and the rice didn’t like coming out of that. “Consistent issues with weather conditions weren’t great for weed control as the north wind and dry conditions were stressful on rice in May,” he said. “But once we got to the point where we could fertilize and flood, everything took off.”

With mostly fair conditions, Hardke said he anticipates coming close to the record 170 bushels per acre set in 2021.

“Last year’s state average was 165 bushels per acre, and in 2021 we set a record with 170 bushels per acre,” he said. “As good as the crop looks, the expectation is that yield would be somewhere between those last two years. I won’t be surprised if it ends up closer to the record. Milling yields remain a question mark as high nighttime temperatures in July may have impacted portions of the crop.”

With combines out this week, Hardke expects harvest to keep rolling ahead of schedule.

“The next NASS report will probably show 25% of acres harvested,” he said. “There’s not much in the forecast that could slow us down at the moment and most are very pleased with their early yield.”

Arkansas is the top rice growing state, typically growing about half of the nation’s crop annually. An estimated 1.3 million acres were planted this season, and uptick of about 200,000 acres from 2022. Jackson County is the top rice growing county in the state this year with a little more than 112,000 acres dedicated to the crop, according to the Farm Service Agency. Poinsett County ranks second with 107,000 acres while Lawrence County is third with 104,000 acres.

Rice is a $1.373 billion industry in the Natural State.