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Arkansas flooding toll may not be as bad as expected

Rice farmers work to harvest field of furrow-irrigated rice in Arkansas.
Impact of spring flooding could be felt at harvest in Arkansas this fall.
Cooler temperatures have helped keep rice losses to flooding at lower levels.

The Arkansas rice crop took a major lick in late April and early May, but it’s beginning to look like the flooding that occurred in the northeast portion of the state may not have claimed as many acres as once feared.

When the remaining floodwaters disperse and replanting is completed, Arkansas growers could still have more than 1 million acres of rice, according to Jarrod Hardke, rice Extension agronomist with the Rice Research and Extension Center in Stuttgart.

“I do think at this time we will have over 1 million acres of rice total in the state of Arkansas,” said Dr. Hardke, who was a speaker along with Dr. Nathan Childs, a USDA-ERS agricultural economist, during the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Rice Webinar on May 25.

Initially, Dr. Hardke and other rice specialists with the university had estimated the state’s losses at 180,000 acres or more of rice to the floodwaters that began moving out of Missouri and into north-central Arkansas in late April.

“The floodwaters, even as of today more than three weeks later, have not come anywhere near subsiding,” he said. “But I will say that we have been pleasantly surprised at some of the rice fields we are going to be able to keep.”

Below 1 million?

At one point, rice specialists had said the state could drop below 1 million acres, which would have been the first time acreage had fallen below that mark since 1983. That was based, in part, on USDA’s March 31 Planting Intentions Report estimate of 1.1 million acres of rice for the state in 2017.

“There has already been some replanting of those areas that were lost,” Dr. Hardke said. “Some others are certainly still up in the air and obviously a lot of the area that still remains flooded is a huge question mark.”

In 2013, primarily due to high soybean and corn prices, Arkansas rice plantings fell to 1.07 million acres, he said. “That was the lowest since the late 1980s, and, if we fall below that level, that will be the lowest since 1987.”

He said long-grain varieties will account for most of the decline with medium-grain acres remaining in line with USDA’s projections.

“Arkansas was already projected to be down a good 20 percent compared to 2016, and it’s looking like we could even push down even further below that to a 25 percent reduction or more,” said Dr. Hardke.

90 percent planted

“To provide a little bit of perspective on flooding events and what has occurred and expected yields to come out of that, if you compare it to the flooding of 2011, which this is very reminiscent of – that flood event occurred on almost the exact same date of the year – we only had about 45 percent of the crop planted versus 90 percent this year. 

He said growers have lost a tremendous number of levees in their fields. “We do seed those, and there will be lost production associated with that with many electing to not reseed levies. Those that have are moving to earlier maturing that are less productive to account for the maturity difference and to get whatever rice they can off of that crop.”

In 2011, when the flooding occurred, Arkansas growers were projected to plant about 1.4 million acres of rice. Although rice specialists thought they would lose 300,000 acres, the final number was 200,000, giving the state 1.2 million acres that year.

“Hopefully, we'll keep more than we thought in 2017, but we’ll have to battle around that,” he said. “So at the moment we’re still juggling all of those numbers and where we're going to settle out from there.”

Missouri’s rice acreage was also reduced, but figures aren’t available yet. “Mississippi did drop their acres tremendously so some of that seed came available to be moved over into Arkansas to help bolster some of the seed limitations that had been there,” he said. “Mississippi could be down to 120,000 to 130,000 acres.

Rice at mid-season

“And Louisiana was also having a very, very good start to the year. They subsequently experienced flooding. But the timing of their flooding could potentially be even worse and more devastating because their rice was mid-season where it is much more susceptible to the loss and plant death when you have submerged rice under those conditions.”

Growers with flooded fields may have benefitted from the cooler temperatures that have occurred during May. “That’s one of the reasons a lot of the rice has probably survived a little bit longer under those submerged conditions,” he said.

“While that has been effective in helping the submerged rice, it’s also been to the detriment of the rice that’s not submerged. A lot of it has struggled mightily with the cool conditions and herbicide injury. Luckily, drift complaints have not caused too many problems, but the rice needs what's expected after this rain – temperatures in the mid and upper 80s and nights that are not too cool. Hopefully, we'll grow out of this.”

To read about Dr. Childs’ comments, click on

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