On April 18, the weather in Arkansas had been excellent for several days, but because of rainfall a week earlier, rice farmers in the state were only then preparing to get back to planting. Fields were drying out but remained soggy — and rain was forecast again by week's end.
“No doubt about it: we're behind,” said Chuck Wilson, Arkansas Extension rice specialist of the state's rice planting. “As of the latest crop report, we were about 6 percent planted. Our five-year average at this time is 13 percent planted. Last year, the state was already 28 percent planted.”
Wilson believes USDA's 6 percent estimate “is reasonable.” If there is that much planted, however, he suspects a lot of it is in the centrally-located Grand Prairie region.
“In the 30-mile drive I have back and forth to work (in Stuttgart, Ark.), I see a lot of rice planted. But when you get outside the prairie, planted rice fields are few and far between. I've spoken with folks all over the state and it's the same story: too many wet fields, too little time between rains.”
Extension agent Rick Thompson can count on two hands those who have planted in Poinsett County, Ark. The county, with 135,000 rice acres last year, has the most rice acreage in the state.
“We've got two growers on the east side of the county and about a half dozen on the west side who have planted any rice,” said Thompson. “And those who have planted, by and large, have done only one or two fields. I'm guessing fewer than 10 folks have planted.”
The fact that so few in Poinsett County have planted “tells me we need a break — and quickly,” said Wilson. “There are some exceptions: fields on hillsides that drain well may get planted soon. But for the most part, it'll be (April 20) before we can get to planting again in any big way.”
What does this portend? “Hopefully, prices going up!” said Wilson with a laugh. “Seriously, the markets have made some good moves over the last few days. Maybe they're watching our weather too.”
There are concerns about yield. “The earlier we've planted, the better our yields. So, the later current conditions drag on, the bigger the yield drag: May-planted rice won't do as well as April-planted rice.”
Besides reporting on planting woes, Wilson asked rice growers to be on the lookout for the South American rice leaf miner, a recently identified pest new to the country. There are some indications the pest may be moving north.
“It isn't in Arkansas yet,” said Wilson. “It's a relatively new pest in the United States. It's been in Louisiana for the last year or two and was in Texas for a couple of years without having been reported.
“APHIS and the Arkansas Plant Board have issued an advisory to be watching for it. If it moves into the state, we need to know as soon as possible.”
The South American rice leaf miner will attack rice anywhere from the two-leaf stage through tillering. It also tends to be worse in late-planted rice fields than early-planted fields.
“I don't know if there are a lot of established control options at this point,” said Wilson. “I know there aren't any pesticides labeled for it in the country.”