Midsouth rice acres could either decline slightly or remain about the same when farmers begin planting next spring, according to Extension specialists speaking during the USA Rice Federation’s first online state rice report webinars.
With soybean futures moving close to $12 in recent trading sessions and corn futures closing at more than $4 a bushel, acres of long-grain rice, at least, could go down in Arkansas, the largest rice-producing state in the U.S. Medium grain acres might rebound slightly.
“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs in rice acres since 2016,” said Jarrod Hardke, Extension rice specialist with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “In 2016, we had 1.5 million acres; in 2017, 1.1 million; then 1.4 million; then 1.1 million; then 1.4 million; and at this point we’re projecting 1.35 million acres in the state of Arkansas in 2021.
“Again, it does project to be another down year,” he said. “That could change in January or February but based off current expectations we could see a 115,000-acre decrease in long grain and a 25,000-acre increase in medium grain.”
Louisiana is expecting a slight increase in rice acres after suffering the devastating effects of two hurricanes that hit both of the state’s major rice-growing areas in Southwest and Northeast Louisiana in 2020.
“Hopefully, we will stay away from the hurricanes in 2021,” said Ronnie Levy, an agronomist who has come out of retirement to work as Extension rice specialist for the LSU AgCenter. “This is something where we will always have concerns when we look at rice production.”
He said researchers and growers are looking at earlier-maturing rice varieties that will allow them to harvest before the onset of hurricane season. “We know that if we get too early, we have too short of a growing season, and it affects yields. We would like something that’s high yielding in a short season.
“We’re looking for slightly higher rice acres in Louisiana. Prices have been good. We’ve been talking to producers, and they’re planning on planting a few more acres to rice in this next year, especially in North Louisiana. Even with the hurricanes they felt like they had a good crop so we do expect to see more acres in Louisiana in the coming year.”
Soybeans have been falling out of favor in South Louisiana, he noted. “Soybeans have been grown primarily in rotation with rice as a means of red rice control. We’re seeing fewer acres of soybeans and a slight increase in rice acres. In North Louisiana, there’s been a big push in rice, and a lot of it has to do with an increase in duck hunting leases.”
Considering all those factors, he expects rice acres to rise by 15,000 to 20,000 acres in Louisiana’s major rice-growing areas from 475,927 acres in 2020.
Mississippi rice producers stepped up to the plate in 2020 and planted 164,000 acres, an increase of about 50,000 acres over 2019, according to Brian Mills, an agricultural economist specializing in farm management and policy at Mississippi State University.
Mills, who is based at MSU’s Delta Research & Extension Center in Stoneville, Miss., said most observers do not expect much of an increase in the Delta region where all of the state’s rice is grown in 2021
“Our comparative budgets are showing higher break-evens than the projected prices are for most of our rice production systems right now,” he noted. “Going forward, you need to understand where that break-even is and what costs maybe you can cut for some of these production systems.”
Mills said he’s not expecting rice acres to increase very much in 2021. “My view is this (164,000 acres) will be about as high as we get, given what soybean prices are doing right now – they’re above $10 and corn is around $4 on a cash basis so I would assume it will either stay level with where we are now or maybe go down a little bit based off what those other crop prices are doing.”
Rice producers in Southeast Missouri increased their rice acres from 173,000 in 2019 to an estimated 210,000 in 2020, according to Michael Aide, professor in the Department of Agronomy at Southeast Missouri State University.
“Some of that acreage would have been higher had it not been for the untimely, long-term spring rains that we had that prevented a lot of people from planting what they intended,” he said. “Both cotton and rice seem to be on an upward trend across Southeast Missouri.”
Aide said Missouri’s rice acreage is likely to again exceed 200,000 in 2021. “What you have to remember is a lot of the acres people wanted to put in rice in 2020 didn’t get put into rice because of the heavy spring rains. Should that repeat in 2021, I think it will be about the same as last year.”
Furrow-irrigated rice or row rice, which has been grown for the past six or seven years in Missouri, may also continue to gain acres, he said. “It will come back a lot stronger if we can figure out how to manage the nitrogen. That’s still a problem for us, as well as figuring out the water management side of it.
“I think we’re in survival mode, and we’re looking at strategies for improving excellence in the future,” he said. “But we know we’re in survival mode, and we don’t think Missouri will come out of its economic woes until sometime in the future.”