Attractive rice prices have spurred U.S. rice growers to plan to plant more acres this year, but Arkansas rain remains a wild card.
By Vicky Boyd
The U.S. Department of Agriculture expects rice growers will plant 2.69 million acres this season, or 9 percent more than they did in 2017, according to its recently released 2018 Planting Intentions Report.
But at least in Arkansas, which is responsible for more than 50 percent of U.S. rice acreage, prolonged rain could affect rice as well as soybean acres, says Dr. Jarrod Hardke, University of Arkansas Extension rice agronomist.
“If we have growers sitting inside watching it rain over the next few weeks or for a prolonged time, that may incentivize growers to move more acreage into soybeans and away from rice,” he said in a March 29 University of Arkansas webinar. “We’re still actually in very good shape. A big positive is rice prices have greatly improved. But we’re going to need some dry conditions in the very near future to keep things on track.”
The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service based its planting intentions report on a survey of thousands of growers nationwide, says Eugene Young, NASS regional director for the Delta Regional Office in Little Rock, Arkansas. In the Delta District, which comprises Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana, about 77 percent of growers this year returned the voluntary survey that asks them how many acres they planned to plant, he says.
At the same time, the USDA released the Rice Stocks Report that found 83.4 million hundredweight were in combined on-farm and off-farm storage on March 1, Young says. That was a 22 percent reduction from the 107.5 million cwt in storage March 1, 2017, and the lowest March 1 stocks on hand since 1999, he says.
Rain, rain, go away
During the last week of March, most of Arkansas received 2-4 inches of rain on top of earlier precipitation, Hardke says. Before the rain, growers in some spots were able to start planting limited fields.
Although growers may feel anxious and behind schedule, he says planted acreage was about average for the end of March.
If the rain stops by early April, growers on light ground could probably get back in fairly quickly. But on the heavier, clay soils on which about 40-plus percent of the state’s rice is grown, growers typically have to wait two to three weeks after the rain stops before they can re-enter fields.
As long as rains don’t continue for several weeks, Hardke says he’s comfortable with the USDA’s long-grain estimate of about 1.15 million acres for Arkansas, based on conversations he’s had with growers and consultants.
Where he disagrees is with the USDA’s projections of 180,000 acres of medium-grain rice for Arkansas. Instead, Hardke says he believes growers will likely plant 220,000-225,000 acres, based on past history.
With current very low medium-grain stocks and two consecutive years of reduced medium-grain acres, he says historical trends would predict a rebound this season.
Titan, a University of Arkansas medium-grain release, saw limited plantings in 2017 compared to the industry leading Jupiter. Hardke says he expects acreage of Titan to increase but still be limited to about 25 percent of overall Arkansas plantings this year. The constraint is due to not all food processors who use medium grain having listed Titan as a preferred variety yet.