UACES Facebook Weather presents biggest challenges to rice, cotton in 2015
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Weather presents biggest challenges to rice, cotton in 2015

By Fred Miller
U of A System Division of Agriculture
Dec. 11, 2015

Fast Facts:

  • Weather presented the biggest challenges to rice and cotton growers in 2015.
  • Rain delayed planting and resulted in fewer planted acres than 2014.
  • High mid-season heat affected quality and yields.

 (1,050 words) 

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Weather presented the biggest hurdles to rice and cotton growers in 2015, said University of Arkansas crop specialists.

Heavy spring rains delayed planting and reduced the number of acres farmers had planned to plant. Then high temperatures during critical times in the growing season had negative impacts on yield and quality.

Jarrod Hardke, extension rice agronomist, said Arkansas rice growers will harvest nearly 1.3 million acres of rice in 2015. “This is down from nearly 1.5 million acres in 2014,” he said.

“It’s worth noting that over 300,000 acres were listed as prevented planting for rice this year,” Hardke said, “meaning that in theory, if conditions were favorable, growers would have planted almost 1.6 million acres.

 The current Arkansas average yield reported by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistic Service is 164 bushels per acre, down from 2014’s record-tying 168 bushels per acre state average yield.

“At this point, that 164 bushels per acre seems high and we will likely see adjustment when the final numbers come out in January,” Hardke said. “The number likely belongs no higher than 160 bushels per acre and may actually belong somewhere between 155-160.”

The southern half of state  — lower Delta and Grand Prairie regions — saw yields down about 10 percent compared to 2014, Hardke said. The northern half of the state saw somewhat more favorable yields with an average somewhere between 0 percent and 5 percent down from 2014.

“Some growers in the north reported increased average yields compared to 2014 but these were by far the exception and not the rule,” Hardke said.

Rain delays for planting dates and the subsequent weather experienced by the crops had the greatest impacts on overall crop performance, Hardke said.

“The southern half of the state had conditions that led to earlier planting, which on average points to higher potential yields,” he said. “Unfortunately this year, rice planted in early to mid-April met midseason growing conditions that weren’t favorable for optimum yield potential.”

He said extreme heat during grain fill led to quality concerns for some of the crop, especially in the southern areas of the state.

The northern half of the state seemed set up for lower yields because they were forced to plant later, primarily the end of April and early May, Hardke said. But those crops ended up with improved yields because of more favorable midseason conditions.

“Altogether, 2015 was a year that did not behave according to historical averages in any way,” Hardke said.

Many farmers had difficulty making early season herbicide and fertilizer applications because of rainfall, Hardke said.

On the positive side, Hardke said, farmers faced extremely low disease pressure, relatively low insect pressure, and early season conditions that were favorable for effective residual herbicide activity. 

Arkansas cotton update:

Bill Robertson, extension cotton agronomist, said the USDA Farm Service Agency reported that 205,000 acres of cotton were harvested in Arkansas in 2015.

“It should all be off the stalk by now and mostly ginned,” Robertson said.

“USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service said Arkansas growers had planned to plant 240,000 acres of cotton,” Robertson said, “but the planting window was narrow because of excessive rain. We had a really wet May and only a couple days in April when it was warm enough to plant.”

USDA-NASS reported that average yields for Arkansas cotton was 1,124 pounds of lint per acre, just under the record average of 1,145 pounds per acre in 2014 and less than the 1,236 pounds per acre that had been projected in August.

Robertson said that early yield projection was based on the number of bolls that had set one the plants. But high heat during boll set resulted in fewer seeds being formed, and fewer seeds result in less lint.

Before the rain began in May, lack of rainfall had an impact on pre-plant herbicide applications.

“Some of the herbicides we use, especially for resistant pigweed, need rain to assure that the herbicide will be activated and working when the crop is planted. Pre-emergence herbicides require moisture after application and may not provide adequate control in dry years,” Robertson said. “But it stayed dry when we needed the rain. Then when it started raining, it wouldn’t stop.”

When the rain finally let up, Robertson said, it was June and too late to plant cotton. “The first 10 days in May are the optimum window,” he said.

Cotton growers began picking about mid-September, he said.

The inconsistent weather helped the crop in some ways, but hurt it in others.

“Approximately two-thirds of the cotton was harvested with very little rainfall, which means very little boll rot and picker efficiency was high,” Robertson said. “The favorable picking conditions resulted in good color, which improves prices.”

But the weather that impacted seed set also had a negative impact on micronaire — a measure of fineness on fiber. A large portion of the 2015 crop had high micronaire values.  The fibers were overly mature and too course for use in high end products, so the price that farmers are paid was discounted and offset any premium they might have received for the good color.

Robertson said most cotton yield losses this year were weather related. “Probably 70 to 75 percent of our losses are from weather,” he said. “I don’t fell like we had significant loss from weeds or pests.”

Insect losses were low, he said, and growers had good weed management technology available, although it was costly.

Robertson said some new cotton varieties tested this season look promising.

“These are part of new technologies that will allow growers to spray dicamba over the top of cotton,” Robertson said. “However, it is not clear at this time if dicamba will be registered for use beyond the existing burndown label for 2016.”

 “It’s very exciting,” he said, “another tool in the toolbox.”

He said some of those new cotton varieties were among the highest yielding varieties tested.

Robertson noted that the cotton industry is losing infrastructure as a result of reduced acres and total production. One of the consequences is the closing of cotton gins.

Robertson said Arkansas had 39 active gins in 2013 and 35 in 2014. This year, he said, there are probably 10-12 fewer gins in the state than last fall.

To learn more about cotton, rice and other commodity crops in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension agent or visit


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U of A Division of Agriculture
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