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NE Arkansas races ahead in planting; central, southern Arkansas slowed by rain


Fast facts:

NE Arkansas farmers nearly done planting
Good fall weather gave farmers a leg up on field prep

STUTTGART — About half of Arkansas’ expected 1.45 million acres of rice has been planted, with northeast Arkansas leading the way, said Jarrod Hardke, rice extension agronomist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.
“We're in great shape in terms of overall planting. We're probably in the neighborhood of 50 percent planted for rice,” Hardke said on Friday. “In the east-central area, it’s right at 50 percent and potentially as high as 75 percent planted in northeast Arkansas” with some of the rice in Northeast Arkansas already emerging.
“There are some counties that are definitely around 75 percent or greater planted in the northeastern part of the state,” Hardke said. “Some of the bigger operations were able to get everything — corn, rice and soybean — planted in a two-week run.”
Planting in Jackson County, Arkansas. Taken April 4, 2024. (U of A System Division of Agriculture photo by Matthew Davis)
Planting progress in southeastern Arkansas has been slower, no thanks to several waves of heavy rain. Hardke said maybe 25 percent of rice had been planted.
Between April 7-11, areas south of a line from Stuttgart to Arkadelphia to Texarkana saw more than 4 inches of rain, with El Dorado recording 6.79 inches and 6.21 inches at Monticello, according to the National Weather Service.
Last year’s post-harvest weather was a big help, giving farmers a chance to knock out field prep.
“We had a super early start again in northeast Arkansas,” Hardke said. “We had so much prepared because of the dry fall.”
Fall of 2023 was in stark contrast to previous seasons.
“When we reflect back on the extremely late planting progress of 2019 and 2020, which was terrible — we just could not get in the field. We couldn't get anything prepared, much less get anything planted on time,” while 2023 was warm and dry enough to plant early.
Matthew Davis, Jackson County extension staff chair for the Division of Agriculture said Monday that several of his county’s larger farms “are done or going to be done this week.”
Farmers probably won’t be deterred by this week’s forecast storms, Davis said.
“With currently a half-inch rainfall predicted for Tuesday, that’s not enough to stop anyone from finishing out this week,” he said. “The majority of the acres will be in before May 1st if we do not run out of moisture before then. Current rainfall totals have been sporadic this season, with storms developing but not giving up much rainfall. Spring thunderstorms are still in the back of many farmers' minds as we put the vast majority of the crop in the soil.
“At the rate we’re going, we’re going to have all the crops in by May 15,” Davis said, adding that the only exception would be food soybeans.
Hardke said the moisture is welcome, because high winds accompanying the last few storm fronts had dried the soil quickly.
In a post on X on Saturday, Scott Matthews, a farmer at Weiner, Arkansas, said he was “planting no-till rice. It was too wet/damp at 10 a.m. By 5 p.m. it was this dusty this year is making me nervous about drought.”
The April 11 map from the United States Drought Center showed 20 percent of the state being either abnormally dry or in moderate drought.
Hardke also noted a trend over the last few seasons toward planting everything earlier and moving away from a general planting sequence.
“It used to be everybody gets the corn in, and then farmers start shifting to rice and rice takes off, and is then the beans take off,” he said.
Now, “as soon as there’s a window, everybody’s planting everything all at once and all that they can,” Hardke said.
It used to be you could tell the difference between the crops going in, but not so much anymore “because you’ve got row rice in the mix and it's all in beds, not levees,” he said.