Rice outlook hopeful for 2020
While 2019 was a difficult year for rice producers, 2020 may see a turnaround in Arkansas rice farming, with total acreage expected to increase 25 percent to nearly 1.5 million acres.

We’re expecting a sharp increase in total rice acres driven by long-grain rice, with a modest reduction in medium-grain acreage,” Scott Stiles, economist for the University of Arkansas said.

Total rice acreage is projected to increase by 290,400 acres from about 1.2 million acres planted last year to about 1.4 million acres this year. Acreage for long-grain varieties is expected to increase 32 percent from 950,000 acres last year to about 1.3 million acres this year. Medium-grain acreage is expected to decline 8 percent from 205,000 acres in 2019 to 188,600 acres this year, Stiles said.

Untimely rains plagued rice producers in 2019. Overall, 511,819 acres of rice were not planted due to flooding, putting Arkansas’ share of 2019 U.S. rice production at 45 percent, down from 48 percent in 2018.

“Instead of a 35-year high, we now have long-grain ending stocks that are at their lowest in 16 years,” Stiles said.

Despite a record year for prevent planting, yields remained good.

Planting between March 21 and April 3 typically produces the best yields, Jarrod Hardke, extension rice agronomist for the Division of Agriculture, said, but those dates came and went last year, leaving rice producers with their slowest planting in 25 years.

“Our true summer happened in late August,” he said. “The majority of what affects milling issues depends on what happens after heading. Usually the later the plant, the better the head rice yields. In 2018, we saw the opposite, but this year we had some phenomenal millage yields.”

Low production last year helped avert a long grain price collapse and may have been the silver lining
behind all those rain clouds. In May, the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast long grain ending stocks
to reach the highest level since the mid-1980s. At that time rice futures prices were trading near $10 per
cwt. By September, futures prices had climbed to $12 per cwt.

Futures contracts are starting 2020 well above $12 per cwt, with March 2020 rice futures currently trading at $13.22 per cwt, Stiles said.

Regarding 2020 inputs, seed costs for rice have remained mostly unchanged over the past year, and fertilizer prices are below early 2019 levels.

“The fact we haven’t seen sharp increases in the largest drivers of input costs works in favor of rice acreage this year,” Stiles said. “Recent political events in Iraq and Iran moved the energy markets significantly higher. How this will impact fuel costs is something we’re watching closely.”

Accurate predictions are always difficult in January, but market and production drivers may align to make 2020 a profitable year for producers.

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