As rice acreage expands in Arkansas, the University of Arkansas is working on a research center to enhance production techniques and best management practices for the grain in areas north of Interstate 40 and west of Crowley’s Ridge.
“Our immediate need is to have a research farm on the type of soils now home to rice production in northeast Arkansas,” Mark Cochran, vice president-agriculture, for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said in a news release. “Being able to conduct research under conditions similar to our producers north of Interstate 40 and west of Crowley’s Ridge is critical to supporting and enhancing the Arkansas rice industry.”
The Division of Agriculture now conducts research on rice production in Stuttgart at the Rice Research and Extension Center and at the Northeast Research and Extension Center in Keiser.
“The soils at our Rice Research and Extension Center in Stuttgart are not the same as the mixed soils north of I-40 and west of Crowley’s Ridge, nor are they the same as the heavier clay soils closer to the Mississippi River on which we grow rice at our Northeast Arkansas Research and Extension Center in Keiser,” he says.
Cochran says the land purchased for the center near Harrisburg is powered by a $4 million gift from the Arkansas Rice Research Promotion Board. The division is working on two more gifts to cover facility construction and equipment, as well as an endowment to cover base operating costs. The physical needs for the facility are still under discussion.
Jay Coker of Stuttgart, chairman of the Arkansas Rice Research and Promotion Board, says in addition to addressing the needs of farmers, the center will be a showcase for Arkansas agriculture and rice.
“The Arkansas Rice Research and Promotion Board has recognized that there is a need to develop a research station in Northeast Arkansas,” Coker says. “Being able to develop a research farm to address the challenges that the growers and stakeholders in this area face will better allow the U of A System Division of Agriculture to bring forward recommendations and programs that will benefit all rice growers and industry.
“The location of this farm is highly visible and will enable the Division of Agriculture to highlight achievements and awareness of agriculture production, specifically rice production, to the general public who may otherwise never know how cutting-edge, world-class research benefits them as well.”
More than 60 percent of Arkansas rice production is in northeast Arkansas, Coker says, adding, “Its development and funding will enhance and streamline other rice research projects being conducted at the other stations around the state.”
“Several billion dollars in the state’s economy are attributed to the rice industry, particularly in northeast Arkansas. Four of the five top rice counties are right here in Jackson, Poinsett, Lawrence and Cross counties,” says Marvin Hare of Newport, a member of the research and promotion board.
“I’m looking forward to getting it going. The nine farmer members of the Arkansas Rice Research and Promotion Board have spent a lot of time in the last few years doing research, and we’ve got the unique opportunity to build a world-class station from the ground up. We don’t have to work around any old buildings or an old layout. We have a clean slate. My greatest hope is that we take advantage of that.
“And in 50 years, we hope someone will look back and say ‘those people did a good job in getting this thing started.’”