Looking into the crystal ball

USDA-ERS agricultural economist Nathan Childs recently provided a glimpse into how the 2018-19 rice marketing year is expected to shape up.

• By Vicky Boyd,
Editor •

The 2017-18 rice marketing year is just a few days shy of ending, but rice marketers are already looking to 2018-19. Globally, 2018 production and 2018-19 ending stocks are expected to only change slightly, says Nathan Childs, an agricultural economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.

grain bins trucks

Trucks moved grain out of bins earlier this summer to make way for the new crop.

Global rice production for the coming marketing year, which begins Aug. 1, is projected to be 487.8 million tons (milled basis), up 450,000 tons from the previous forecast. If it comes to fruition, ending 2018-19 stocks would be 143.8 million tons, or 100,000 tons less than 2017-18.

The largest exporting and importing countries are expected to remain unchanged, with India and Thailand remaining No. 1 and 2 exporters, respectively, and China and Nigeria remaining the two largest rice importers.

For the U.S. rice industry, 2017-18 ending stocks are expected to be 32.3 million cwt, Childs said during a recent University of Arkansas webinar. The lower carry-out reflects revisions in exports, existing stocks and domestic use. With increased production in 2018 and sluggish exports and domestic consumption, he expects ending 2018-19 stocks to be 42.3 million cwt, or 31 percent more than at the same time this year.

Within the United States, Childs says, 2018 production is expected to increase by 5 percent to 213 million cwt, driven mostly by an 18 percent increase in planted acreage.

Exports also are expected to drop to about 90 million cwt, down 4 percent. Childs pointed to a more than $200 per-metric-ton price disparity between U.S-grown rice, which currently is fetching more than $600 per metric ton, and Asian product as possible reasons for the decline.

“Exports have been slow, and I don’t see any big pick-up in exports for months,” he says.

Latin America continues to be an important destination, accounting for about 60 percent of U.S. exports.

“The U.S. is very dependent on the Western Hemisphere to market its rice,” Childs says. What concerns him is the increased competition from South American exporters into Central America and Mexico.

Imports likely will continue to rise. During 2017-18, the United States imported 26 million comprising mostly Thai jasmine. But there also was some glutinous, or sticky, rice brought in from Southeast Asia as well as some rice from South America.

Arkansas crop looks good, despite weather challenges

late rice

This rice near Lonoke, Arkansas, seen in early July, was way behind schedule.

Closer to home, timely rains and cooler temperatures over parts of Arkansas have brought relief recently from a prolonged heat wave, says Jarrod Hardke, University of Arkansas Extension rice agronomist.

“We’re in a lot better shape than just a little bit ago,” he says.

Growers started planting early at the end of March. But cool, wet weather delayed seedling emergence by as long as five weeks.

Record heat in May, June and July sped up crop development but also tested growers’ ability to maintain proper floods.

High temperatures, particularly during the night, can cause grain blanking if it occurs during the crucial flowering stage.

Although nighttime temperatures hovered around 75 degrees, roughly the threshold for affecting fertility, Hardke says most of the crop had yet to bloom.

The heat wave has since retreated, settling into more seasonal norms ranging from the high 80s to low 90s during the day and low 70s at night.

The earlier dry weather also created weed-control challenges.

Many products need to be activated by rain or irrigation. But many growers were hesitant to turn on pumps so early in the season. As a result, Hardke says, long-time growers and consultants have told him this year’s crop is the grassiest they can remember.

“Beyond that, the overall rice itself looks very good and has responded very well to the temperatures,” he says. “They haven’t always been perfect but they haven’t been all that bad.”

Many areas of the state began receiving spotty rains in late July. While the weather brought some drought relief, the cooler, more humid conditions spurred disease development.

A few growers have already begun draining their fields in preparation for harvest. Based on current conditions, Hardke says he’d expect the first fields will be harvested in a week to 10 days. He predicts harvest will be in full swing by mid-August, which is still on the early side considering where the crop was in May.

Hardke forecasts a state average yield of 163 bushels per acre, not as good as the state average seen in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2017 but still respectable.

The wildcard is the significant change in the mix of varieties and hybrids planted this season compared to even a few years ago.

“We have a lot more higher yield potential varieties and hybrids compared to even two years ago,” he says. “With that in mind, we might see those numbers bolstered up just a bit.”

To the north, rice producers in the Missouri Bootheel faced more of a mixed bag than counterparts in Arkansas. Missouri received more frequent rains, and Bootheel growers had more difficulty managing diseases and insects.

Other than similar weed problems, Mississippi’s rice appears on the same road as Arkansas’, Hardke says.

Growers in south Louisiana and Texas have just begun harvest, and yield figures are just starting to come in.