UACES Facebook Governor seeks disaster declaration for 12 counties as Arkansas rice growers continue to struggle through harvest

Governor seeks disaster declaration for 12 counties as Arkansas rice growers continue to struggle through harvest

By Ryan McGeeney
U of A System Division of Agriculture
Sept. 23, 2016

 Fast Facts:

  • Gov. Hutchinson requesting federal declaration of disaster for 12 Arkansas counties due to crop loss
  • Although rice harvest more than 70 percent complete, last leg will likely be uphill battle
  • NASS production estimates for Arkansas rice continue to decline

(696 words) 

LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has requested a federal declaration for 12 Arkansas counties, based on extensive crop loss due to weather damage. 

In a letter dated Sept. 16 and addressed to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Hutchinson requested a disaster declaration for Carroll, Clay, Craighead, Independence, Jackson, Lawrence, Lincoln, Madison, Prairie, Randolph, White and Woodruff counties. If granted, the declaration would help producers secure low-interest federal loans and other forms of support to help cope with the estimated $45-$50 million agricultural losses statewide. 

“Many crops in these counties were in or near the harvest stage when they were submerged by water, severely damaging or destroying crop output and quality,” Hutchinson said in the letter. “Physical damage includes field losses of sprouting, mold, stalk rot and lodging, pod splitting and grain shatter. Post-harvest losses include quality discounts and rejection at delivery and will continue throughout this harvest season.” 

The figures were based on a crop loss report published by the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture earlier in September. The full report can be read at

Hutchinson’s letter made reference to the 8-12 inches of rain that fell on northeastern Arkansas over a 4-week period, which contributed to an estimated $7 million loss in rice crops. Even as the Arkansas rice growers head into what is typically considered the last leg of the annual rice harvest, isolated rains throughout the delta aren’t making the process easy. 

Cooperative Extension Service agents in the state’s northeastern counties reported as much as 3 inches of rain for the week ending Sept. 18, even as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service put the number of days suitable for fieldwork at 6.3 out of seven across the state. 

Jarrod Hardke, extension rice agronomist for the Division of Agriculture, said isolated showers, such as a fast-moving storm that poured as much as 2-3 inches of rain on fields across the state in about half an hour on Sept. 18, have begun to take their toll in some areas, often in the form of lodging, in which crop stands fall against each other and collapse in a domino effect. 

“What we’re seeing now is that in some rice fields, in the edges and corners, the areas are caving in,” Hardke said. “In other places, whole fields have been laid down. There are fields that are completely flat. Not falling down — they’re completely down. 

“Lodging situations make harvest extremely difficult,” he said. “You harvest at half of normal speeds — you draw in way more straw and other material, and have to put it through the combine — it’s hard on the equipment. It also increases the chance of grain shattering, and the grower not being able to get all the grain from the plant.” 

Despite ongoing weather challenges, Arkansas growers have already harvested more than 70 percent of planted rice acreage in the state — far exceeding the 5-year average of 48 percent of acreage typically harvested by this point in the season. But ongoing rains will likely have a negative effect on the state’s overall rice output, as some growers report missing production goals by as much as 20 bushels per acre and more, and the USDA continues to lower its overall production expectations. 

Hardke said that in situations like those now facing growers in the delta, the best advice he and Cooperative Extension Service agents can give is for growers to get the crop out of the ground as soon as possible. 

“Our main recommendation is to get it out as fast as they possibly can,” Hardke said. “The lodging only gets worse once rice is down anywhere in the field. The more the grain gets rewetted and dried, the worse the milling quality is going to be. Another concern is the sprouting, which we’ve even seen on standing rice this year. The longer the rice remains in the field, the greater the chance that will happen.” 

Hardke said the only silver lining to the current situation is the clear fall weather forecast for the current week and coming days. 

For more information about Arkansas row crops, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent, or visit


The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer. 

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Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
(501) 671-2126

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