Acreage in the nation’s top rice-growing state is expected to be at its lowest point since 1989, while corn acres in Arkansas are expected to overtake cotton acres for the first time since 1940.
The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) issued its Prospective Plantings report on March 30, with figures based on a survey of America’s farmers.
The prospective plantings report is available here. 
Rice farmers are expected to plant 1.161 million acres in Arkansas, down 3 percentage points from 2011. Even so, “total rice acres came in a little higher than expectations,” said Scott Stiles, Extension economist for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. “The drop is attributed entirely to a 60 percent cut in medium-grain acres from 255,000 to 100,000. Long-grain acres are projected to increase from 940,000 to 1.06 million.”
Arkansas growers’ plans to put in 660,000 acres are in line with the national trend for more corn, with plantings expected to increase to the largest acreage in the United States since 1937. Nationally, growers plan to plant 95.8 million acres of corn this year, up 4 percent from last year, and closing in on the 1937 acreage of 97.2 million acres.
The crossover of cotton and corn acres in Arkansas is something of a watershed, Stiles said. “This year will be the first time since 1940 we’ve seen more corn planted than cotton in the state. Today's corn acreage estimate will be the highest planted in Arkansas since 1956. It’ also the highest sorghum acreage since 2007.”
Extension Cotton Agronomist Tom Barber said lower commodity prices for cotton “compared to the higher return-over-cost potential for corn and soybeans” were major factors in the acreage decline.
“Resistant pigweed is a major decision factor in which crop to plant, and they are much easier to manage especially in corn but also in soybeans when compared with cotton.”
Here are the numbers from the NASS report:
- Corn -- Arkansas farmers intend to plant 660,000 acres, up 118 percent from last year’s 560,000.
- Cotton -- Cotton acres are expected to be down to 590,000 in 2012, from 680,000 last year, following the national trend. All cotton acres in the United States were expected to be 13.2 million acres, down 11 percent from last year.
- Rice -- Even with rice acres down 3 percent to 1.161 million acres from last year’s1.196 million acres, Arkansas still leads the nation. California is a distant second with 544,000 acres expected to be planted this year. Only Missouri and Louisiana were expected to increase rice acreage in 2012.
- Sorghum – Sorghum acres rise 60 percent to 160,000 acres, up from 100,000 acres in 2011.
- Soybeans – Arkansas soybean acres remain roughly the same – 3.3 million acres, just 1 percentage point off from last year’s 3.33 million. Nationally, soybean plantings are expected to be down 1 percent from last year.
- Sweet potatoes – Arkansas would have the third-largest acreage of sweet potatoes in the nation with 19,000 in 2012, up from 18,500 last year. North Carolina rules the roost with an expected 67,000 acres of sweet potatoes.
- Winter wheat – Winter wheat acreage is down 13 percent, to 540,000 acres from 620,000 acres in 2011. Winter wheat was up 3 percent nationally.
- Peanuts -- While peanuts are gaining popularity among growers in Arkansas, there weren’t enough surveyed acres to make the NASS list of peanut states. Georgia is still the nation’s leader with an expected 570,000 peanut acres to be grown in 2012. By contrast, Arkansas growers are expected to have about 3,000 this year.
“Here in Arkansas, it seems the corn and milo acres were a little higher than private expectations, but in Extension circles, we aren’t surprised, given the seed sales we were hearing about and the weather we’ve had since late February,” Stiles said.
For more information about crop production, visit www.uaex.edu  or arkansascrops.com or contact your county Extension office.