Rice Planting Numbers Still a Mystery in Arkansas
Arkansas growers intend to plant about 1.39 million acres of rice in 2020, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report released Tuesday. The acreage is a rebound from 2019’s 1.15 million acres, but still shy of 2018’s 1.44 million acres. The modest increase surprised some analysts, who expected acreage as high as 1.5 million acres, given prevailing market conditions.

Scott Stiles, extension economist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said the relatively small bump in the state’s rice acreage was the most notable detail in an otherwise unsurprising report.

“The comparative returns across all crops have favored rice this spring,” Stiles said. “Everything has pointed toward a huge expansion in rice this year — except weather. “Diesel prices have dropped a dollar per gallon, year to date,” he said. “Fertilizer and seed costs have gone nowhere over the past year. In fact, fertilizer costs are lower than last year. These are facts. Weather permitting, my bias leans toward a higher rice acreage number come June 30,” when the USDA is expected to release a revised acreage report based on actual planting.

“Surprised would be my immediate reaction,” Jarrod Hardke, extension rice agronomist for the Division of Agriculture, said.

“My expectation at this point, weather permitting, is north of 1.5 million acres of rice,” he said. “That has been my expected target for some time, with recent events pointing the needle even further up. We still have all of April and May to get it planted, and history has shown that in just a few weeks’ time we can plant a lot of acres.

“We just need the window,” he said.

Stiles said that even before the market fluctuations associated with the global COVID-19 pandemic began to send shockwaves through various agricultural markets, a variety of issues had been complicating planting decisions for some time.

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