World of weather opposites for Arkansas farmers

6/13/2013 3:45 PM
By Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas farmers were expected to plant 1 million acres of corn this year but frequent heavy rains have knocked that estimate down by about 15 percent, state agriculture experts said Thursday.

Even though it is the middle of June, a small percentage of growers are still planting soybeans, rice and cotton. Planting corn this late is associated with diminished yields, but corn expert Jason Kelley of the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture said irrigation can counter the effects of a normal late summer.

Growers have struggled to get their equipment into the fields this spring.

"It's been a struggle. Having to deal with the cold, the rainfall, the wet soils — it really slowed things down this year," Kelley said.

Normally a wet spring will include a stretch of a week to 10 days in which growers can get their planting done.

"You hear 800,000 acres (of corn) and that seems like a lot. We can plant that in a week," Kelley said. "But it's hard to get that amount planted when you get a day here, a half day there. We couldn't get a string of seven or eight days in a row to get things done."

A year ago, producers in east Arkansas, where most of the state's row crops are grown, were harvesting corn in mid-July.

Farmers also caught a nice break last year. Since they planted early, growers missed the worst of a punishing drought in August and September.

Agricultural economist Scott Stiles of the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture says even some rice is still going in the ground this late in June.

Some of the switch to rice is by corn growers who couldn't get their crops planted but some other growers decided to switch to rice because September futures contracts have been on a consistent rise for about a month.

Stiles said that corn prices could go up because about 5 percent of the nation's crop — close to 5 million acres — hasn't gone into the ground yet. And parts of the Midwest have gotten a lot of rain.

Regardless, Arkansas is still making a very large shift from cotton to corn. Last year state growers planted 700,000 acres of corn and, in 2011, it was 560,000 acres.

Arkansas producers haven't planted 1 million acres of corn since the post-World War II economy of the 1950s.

State growers planted 710 acres of winter wheat, which is now being harvested. Stiles said the crop appears to be above average, so far.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture in its March forecast projected 1.2 million acres of rice would be planted this year in Arkansas, down about 5 percent from a year ago. Some of that could be made up by growers changing their minds about planting other crops.

Arkansas produces about half of the nation's rice and it is the state's largest cash crop.

Growers are expected to have 3.3 million acres of soybeans planted, the state's largest crop geographically. That's about the same as last year.

Producers are planting only 270,000 acres of cotton, compared to 595,000 acres in 2012 and 680,000 acres in 2011.

The U.S. Drought Monitor shows almost all of Arkansas has passed out of the drought. Only a small area in parts of three counties in the state's southwest is in moderate drought, the least extreme categories of drought.


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