Arkansas Rice Farmers Race Against the Calendar

May 13, 2013 08:11 AM
Arkansas Rice Farmers Race Against the Calendar

If planting falls too far behind, more rice acres could be forced out of production

Driving on Arkansas roads, farmers are working fiercely. With planting falling later behind, many farmers are struggling to get this year’s crop in the ground.

"Basically we’ve been running around the clock, when we could go, to try and get this crop in the ground on a timely basis," says Eric Stevens, who farms in Dermott, Ark.

"We’re really far behind, probably 30 days behind last year," says Joe Mencer who farms in Lake Village, Ark.

Just weeks ago, these southeast Arkansas fields were covered it water. Now it’s a race against Mother Nature since they’re so behind in planting, and even tractors are getting stuck. With the wheels coming to a halt, many farmers in the area are reminded how late this year’s crop may be, especially considering the jump start farmers had in 2012.

"Last year was exceptional," says Stevens. "Normally, we’d be behind that and be around the 75 percent mark. This year we’re probably 40 percent total planted."

Corn planting in the area got off to a decent start before Mother Nature brought continuous rains.
"We were able to get in the field the second week of March and planted 500 acres in two days," says Stevens. "Then it started raining."

Both farmers were forced to sit on the sidelines and watch it rain. As the fields flooded, potential replants surfaced. The cool, wet start forced Stevens to replay 120 acres of just one field. For Mencer, emergence is spotty and corn conditions continue to decline.

"The corn crop has really been going through severe flooding the whole spring," he says. "The lower ends of the fields are all real weak and thin. We’re having to add extra nutrients out there to try and bring the corn crop online."

But it’s the rice crop really weighing on their minds. Normally, these farmers would start planting rice March 25. This year, they finally started sowing seeds at the end of April.

"The later you push into September, you’re taking a bigger chance of having a big tropical storm develop in the Gulf," says Stevens. "Most of the time, it will blow that rice flat on the ground."

"One thing is going through more diseases, the late you are in the year," says Mencer. "We may be pollinating during the hot time of the year, which leads to blanking in the rice. This could set us up for lower quality rice, which has really plagued the U.S. the last few years."

Both farmers say they need to have everything planted by the end of May. As the calendar approaches the middle of the month, Mencer thins more rice acres could be forced out of production this year.

"If it keeps raining, we’ll go to flying rice in, and that doesn’t work as well," he says. "And usually if you’re going to mud it in, you’re going to mud it out, that means extra costs. It just carries on throughout the year."

He says rice acres are already down this year, falling below the one million mark in the state for the first time in more than 30 years. So, as planting falls later behind, their biggest concern remains getting the crop in the ground in just a matter of weeks.

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