Rice planting begins in nation’s top rice state
By Ryan McGeeney
U of A System Division of Agriculture
April 3, 2017
- Rice planters began rolling mid-March
- Hardke: Cautiously optimistic about early start
- Efficiency necessary for profit in time of tight margins
LITTLE ROCK — Rice planting in Arkansas has begun in earnest, as growers in the nation’s top rice-producing state seed their fields beneath dark skies and intermittent rains.
Jarrod Hardke, rice agronomist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said that despite weather forecasts that have contained much rain over the past two weeks, the prep work completed by many growers over the winter months allowed producers to move into the fields in mid-March.
“We made a surprising amount of progress the last two weeks,” Hardke said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s March 26 report on crop progress in the state estimated that about 2 percent of the projected rice acreage had been planted, just shy of the five-year average of 3 percent planted at this point in the season.
“While a lot of the delta did get 1-2 inches of rain the weekend of March 25, it wasn’t everywhere,” Hardke said. “I was surprised by how much it dried up. We did have progress starting up again Monday afternoon, moving into Tuesday.”
In 2016, heavy rains in March kept the planting rate to zero for several weeks into the traditional planting window.
Early planting, cautious optimism
Hardke said there is some concern that producers inclined to invest heavily in the earliest phase of the recommended planting window may suffer negative consequences if 2017 does indeed turn out to be similar to 2016, although he was cautiously optimistic.
“We’re just now knocking on the door of what we consider to be the truly optimum time for planting in the northern part of the state,” he said. “But at this point, we’re still staying pretty warm, continuing to get some rice in the ground and make some progress. We’re right in line with where we need to be.”
In the second Arkansas Rice Update, a weekly newsletter published by Hardke and Division of Agriculture Weed Scientist Bob Scott, the authors reiterated several important staples of sound farming, including the importance of planting conventional rice varieties ahead of hybrids, in order to leverage the best yield potential from the available seeds as the planting window proceeds through the summer, and the importance of reevaluating seeding rates each year.
“Every year’s a little different, and it does affect the amount of seed in a pound,” Hardke said. “The weather did seem to change the grain size last year, enough to where we needed to adjust our seeding rates.”
While federal law requires that any seed sold must guarantee a germination rate of at least 80 percent, growers may have come to expect considerably higher actual germination rates, Hardke said. Growers should check the actual estimated germination rate on new bags of seed, in order to calculate the optimum seeding rate for the current season.
Although 2017 hasn’t yet presented any unusual natural obstacles for growers, Hardke noted that the gap between inputs and market sales have become exceedingly thin.
“The margins seem to be even tighter than they have been the last couple of years, and that’s really saying something,” he said. “Just like 2016, timeliness and efficiency are really going to be crucial to making a profit in 2017.”
Hardke said that input costs for rice, not including rent, are ranging between $600-$750 an acre across the state, while market prices hover at about $4.50 per bushel. In 2016, the average Arkansas rice yield was 153.7 bu/ac, producing about $690 per acre.
“When you start doing the yield calculations on that — what you need to hit in order to cover those costs — it gets very concerning,” he said.
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Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service