Heavy Rains in north of state shift lead in rice planting to south
By Ryan McGeeney
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture
- Heavy rains continue to delay rice planting in northern part of state
- Many state crops behind 5-year average for planting completion in April
- Rice levee blowouts possible, but atypical
LITTLE ROCK — Continuing spring rains throughout Arkansas have put rice growers behind their planting schedule, particularly in the northern half of the state, experts with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture said this week.
For the week ending April 19, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that planting for five Arkansas crops — corn, cotton, rice, sorghum and soybeans — are all behind their respective five-year averages in terms of completion. The state’s rice crop, which would typically be 44 percent planted by mid-April, was only 28 percent planted as of last week.
Sorghum was reported as similarly behind, with only 27 percent on planting completed, compared to the five-year average of 45 percent for mid-April. Other crops, including corn, cotton and soybeans, were only slightly behind schedule, according to the report.
Jarrod Hardke, extension rice agronomist for the Division of Agriculture, said that this year’s rains are less severe — to date — than what the state experienced during the past two years’ planting seasons, but that the rains have been more concentrated in the northern half of the state.
“Last year, while everybody had some difficulty [with planting] early, it was somewhat more democratic, a little more state-wide,” Hardke said. “We had these little windows of time where everyone was planting up and down the state. Everybody was wet.”
Hardke said that this year, although rice plantings are only 1 percent behind last year’s, state-wide, almost all of the planting that has been done has occurred south of Interstate 40, the federal highway that bisects the state, dividing north from south.
Arkansas rice farming — most of which occurs in the eastern half of the state — in areas south of I-40 accounts for only about 35 percent of total production, Hardke said. The remaining two-thirds is farmed north of the highway — where most of this spring’s rains have hit hardest — and only about 15 percent of that rice is now in the ground.
Most rice grown in Arkansas is grown in a continuous flood, in which knee-high levees are formed with soil around rice paddies and the plants are kept submerged through most of the growing process. When heavy rains occur early in the season, levees can sometimes be compromised because the soil is still somewhat loose. But such “blowouts” are less of a concern early in the season, prior to grower-established flooding, than those occurring after flooding, when the plants are subjected to additional heat stress and other factors.
Hardke said that the planting delays may not ultimately affect the state’s total rice harvest, provided growers can plant their seed within the next week.
“Based on 10 years of planting date studies, we’ve found that if everything’s in the ground by the end of April, we can still have a harvest that’s 100 percent of optimum,” he said. “Once you slide into May, it immediately slides down into the 70-80 percent range pretty clearly, and continues down into June, when the best you can expect is about 60 percent of optimum.
“It’s all about the economics,” Hardke said. “We still make good rice in May, but once we start getting that late, luck starts to outweigh preparation. And that’s never where we want to be.”
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Dir. of Communication Services
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service