Arkansas rice still on track despite rollercoaster spring weather

Arkansas rice

Cool April weather, with the fewest degree-day units were accumulated in 30 years, was followed by May, where the most DD50 units were accumulated in 30 years — photo by Jarrod Hardke

As the nation’s No. 1 rice producer, Arkansas can have an outsized effect on U.S. rice production one year to the next, depending on fates largely tied to the weather. And 2018 is shaping up to be anything but simple — or predictable.

“The rice crop looks great at the moment, but it’s been a difficult season,” says Jarrod Hardke, University of Arkansas Extension rice agronomist based in Stuttgart. “One of the coldest Aprils on record followed by the hottest May on record has a lot to do with it.”

As of last week, nearly 100 percent of planned rice acreage throughout the state had already emerged, with growers rating 70 percent of the crop in “good” or “excellent” condition, according to a June 4 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

But cool weather and rain in April hindered the application — and likely the effectiveness — of herbicides, which may have consequences later in the season, Hardke says.

“Emergence on early planted rice was extremely delayed by the cold April weather and so we didn’t benefit much from early residual herbicide applications,” he says. “Once we got to May and things warmed up and dried out, they stayed dry and our herbicides didn’t work very well again. Many acres also needed to be flushed to relieve the drought stress conditions and to activate residual herbicides.”

Sporadic rains also interfered with the crop’s ideal fertilization window, leaving growers to try to “play catch-up” during a recent window of dry weather.

The June 2 storm that affected several areas throughout northeastern Arkansas, particularly St. Francis County between Colt and Forest City, appears to have done relatively little damage to rice growers, although a full assessment of crop damage is incomplete.

“The area that was most impacted was relatively small,” Hardke says. “I know there were some levee issues, but it was a smaller scale and a not all rice in the area has gone to flood yet.”

Hardke says the recent high heat, dry conditions and variable winds have also resulted in some reports of off-target herbicide drift.

One measure of the extremity of the 2018 season is the DD50 program, which measures days during which the temperature rises about 50 degrees Fahrenheit to predict the growth of rice.

“In April, we accumulated the fewest DD50 units in the past 30 years. In May we accumulated the most DD50 units in the past 30 years,” Hardke says.

“Quite a swing. What a season,” he says. “And we’re not even halfway through.”

The University of Arkansas contributed this article.