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Storms hit Arkansas rice

Labor Day storms ‘pancake’ rice on eve of harvest.

Mary Hightower

September 11, 2023

2 Min Read
Lodged Rice
Rice lays in a field in Mississippi County after being flattened by storms on Labor Day, Sept. 4, 2023. Ethan Brown, U of A System Division of Agriculture

At a Glance

  • Storm gusts, rain ‘pancaked’ rice in some places
  • Farmers will need a few days to assess

High winds and heavy rain from Labor Day storms that raked across the Arkansas Delta may dampen some of the enthusiasm for the 2023 rice harvest, said Jarrod Hardke, extension rice agronomist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

“It was pretty rough in some places, with 1-3 inches of rain and 50-60 mile per hour winds,” he said on Tuesday. “Some rice is pancaked in the worst areas.”

Last week, the outlook for Arkansas’ rice harvest was upbeat, with Hardke expecting that the state might approach 2021’s record yield. However, after Monday, that optimism was dampened.

The storms were “enough to impact the harvest outlook to at least a small degree,” he said. “We will need to get a better picture in the next few days.”

Heavy heads at harvest

With its panicles — or grain heads — heavy with rice, the upright stems of the rice plant are particularly vulnerable to damage from winds and water the nearer they are to harvest. When crops are blown over, a condition called “lodging,” they are very difficult to harvest since the combine can’t reach plants on the ground.

Hardke said northeastern Arkansas was hardest hit.

“In field edges where stands are thicker and fertilizer overlaps occur the rice is leaning, though not completely lodged,” he said. “This isn’t uncommon in the counties surrounding Jonesboro and southward toward the Grand Prairie.” 

Jenna Martin, Cross County extension agent for the Division of Agriculture, said some farms had 1-3 acres of rice flattened. She also said, “some corn went flat.”

Hardke said that east of Crowley’s Ridge, particularly in Mississippi County, fields that have 40-50 percent lodging are common, and some fields are closer to 100 percent lodged.

“There is more mature rice present in Mississippi County at this time and less able to stand the rain and strong winds,” he said. “West of the ridge around Jonesboro, much of the rice is greener and more flexible, allowing it to better withstand the conditions from the storms, but there were still some severely affected fields.”

More thunderstorms moved through the area later in the week. 

“For fields with the beginning stages of lodging, they will continue to fall lower with each passing wind or rain event, so time is critical to get those fields harvested before the rice flattens to the ground,” Hardke said.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service said in Tuesday’s Crop Progress report that Arkansas’ rice was 68% mature and 24% harvested, well ahead of the 14%, five-year average.

The National Weather Service at Little Rock issued severe thunderstorm warnings that Monday evening for parts of Lonoke, Pulaski and Jefferson counties. The storms also included a phenomenon that the National Weather Service called a “gustnado.”

In 2022, Arkansas rice growers harvested 1.084 million acres with a yield of 164.7 bushels per acre. In 2021, Arkansas farmers harvested 1.193 million, with a state average yield of 169.6 bushels per acre.

Source: University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture

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