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April 1, 2020
By Ryan McGeeneyU of A System Division of Agriculture
(827 words)(Download this story in MS Word format here.)
LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas growers intend to plant about 1.39 million acres of rice in
2020, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report released Tuesday. The acreage
is a rebound from 2019’s 1.15 million acres, but still shy of 2018’s 1.44 million
acres. The modest increase surprised some analysts, who expected acreage as high as
1.5 million acres, given prevailing market conditions.
Scott Stiles, extension economist for the University of Arkansas System Division of
Agriculture, said the relatively small bump in the state’s rice acreage was the most
notable detail in an otherwise unsurprising report.
“The comparative returns across all crops have favored rice this spring,” Stiles said. “Everything
has pointed toward a huge expansion in rice this year — except weather.
“Diesel prices have dropped a dollar per gallon, year to date,” he said. “Fertilizer
and seed costs have gone nowhere over the past year. In fact, fertilizer costs are
lower than last year. These are facts. Weather permitting, my bias leans toward a
higher rice acreage number come June 30,” when the USDA is expected to release a revised
acreage report based on actual planting.
“Surprised would be my immediate reaction,” Jarrod Hardke, extension rice agronomist
for the Division of Agriculture, said.
“My expectation at this point, weather permitting, is north of 1.5 million acres of
rice,” he said. “That has been my expected target for some time, with recent events
pointing the needle even further up. We still have all of April and May to get it
planted, and history has shown that in just a few weeks’ time we can plant a lot of
“We just need the window,” he said.
Corn and soybean see modest growthCorn acreage grew a modest 4 percent over 2019 planting, from 770,000 to 800,000 acres.
If growers follow through successfully, this would be the highest Arkansas corn acreage
since 2013, when growers planted 880,000 acres.
Soybean, the state’s No. 1 crop, enjoyed a mild rebound from 2019 as well, growing
9 percent from about 2.65 million to 2.9 million acres, still well short of the 3.27
million acres seen as recently as 2018. At least three major factors have conspired
to discourage soybean acreage — the ongoing trade dispute with China, more than a
year’s worth of unfavorable weather and generally depressed commodity prices.
“At current price levels it’s difficult to imagine soybean acreage increasing,” Stiles
said. “Today’s report didn’t reflect a huge change from last year. I guess you have
to consider the whole picture: One side of the picture hangs over 2019 and all the
prevented planting acres. Another side of the picture hangs over the rest of 2020
and hope that China comes through and buys our commodities.”
Jeremy Ross, extension soybean agronomist for the Division of Agriculture, said that
while the acreage may be disappointing from a numbers perspective, he still has high
hopes for the overall crop.
“I was hoping for a few more acres of soybean, but with the decline in price, the
soybean acreage projections don’t surprise me,” Ross said. “We just need some dry
weather so we can get started.
“The soybean field in Prairie County planted the first week of March has a good stand,”
he said. “They look a little yellow, but that’s not surprising with the cool, wet
conditions they have had since planting.”
Cotton falls slightlyCotton acreage fell from 2019 plantings by about 5 percent, from 620,000 acres to
590,000 acres. Stiles said that previous surveys, conducted by the National Cotton
Council in December and January, suggested that overall cotton acreage would be down.
During the period that the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service conducted
its growers surveys for Tuesday’s report — the first two weeks of March — cotton prices
were “tanking,” Stiles said.
“It shouldn’t be a surprise at all to see cotton acreage decline 5 percent,” he said.
“Some would argue for a larger reduction with December 2020 futures trading around
53 cents today.”
Overall market forces sending confusing signals
Stiles said that even before the market fluctuations associated with the global COVID-19
pandemic began to send shockwaves through various agricultural markets (See: “Cattle
industry feels effects of COVID-19 pandemic” https://bit.ly/2R0e5Pw), a variety of issues had been complicating planting decisions for some time.
“At current prices, there's not any incentive to switch from cotton to corn or soybeans,”Stiles said. “None of those are at profitable levels right now. Arkansas’ cotton
acres had increased 4 straight years — it looks like the streak ends here.
“The past two years, growers have become accustomed to ad hoc assistance from things
like the Market Facilitation Program (MFP),” he said. “Our perception of how things
‘have’ worked in the past probably influences planting decisions to some extent. That’s
another issue at play in today’s numbers: growers may believe that under the current
circumstance there’s a strong possibility for another round of ad hoc subsidies, and
they’ll need to plant something in order to receive those potential payments.”
To learn about extension programs in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension
Service agent or visit www.uaex.uada.edu. Follow us on Twitter at @UAEX_edu.
About the Division of Agriculture
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen
agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption
of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative
Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work
within the nation’s historic land grant education system.
The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas
System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension
and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex,
gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital
or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and
is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
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Media contact:Ryan McGeeneyCommunications ServicesUniversity of Arkansas System Division of AgricultureCooperative Extension Service(501) email@example.com