LITTLE ROCK The National Agricultural Statistics Service is predicting more acres of rice, cotton, sorghum and soybeans planted in Arkansas this year with fewer acres dedicated to corn and winter wheat.
The report predicted that rice acreage will increase from just more than 1 million acres in 2013 to more than 1.5 million acres this year and that soybean planting is expected to rise from 3.25 million acres to 3.35 million.
Cotton acreage is forecast to increase from 310,000 acres to 340,000, and sorghum planting is estimated to go from 130,000 acres to 140,000, according to the report released Monday.
The "report confirms what we were gathering all winter at our county meetings" with Arkansas crop producers, said Scott Stiles, extension economist with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.
Jarrod Hardke, a rice specialist for the division, said the estimates are "right in line with university expectations."
Higher prices in 2013 saw corn become a rising star for Arkansas farmers, but the market has cooled, according to extension experts in corn and cotton.
"Overall, the corn figure is going to be down compared to last year," said Jason Kelley, a wheat and feed grains specialist. "Grain prices have come down from 2013, so a drop in acres was expected."
But, Stiles said, by this time of year the key factor is likely not prices.
"NASS conducted its survey for (the) report during the first two weeks of March, and it reflects grower's intentions at that time," Stiles noted. "I think commodity prices will have a very limited impact from here forward on what growers plant. Weather will now have the most influence," he said.
Tom Barber, extension weed scientist and former cotton specialist, said lower prices for corn may be sending some acres back to cotton.
"The southern half of the state in particular had record cotton yields in 2013," he said. "That may be a factor, but more importantly is the fact that cotton's net return per acre is marginally improved versus corn as compared to last year."
The numbers are no surprise according to Jeremy Ross, extension soybean specialist, based on comments made during winter meetings with growers across the state who he said indicated they would plant more acres in soybeans and rice and fewer in corn.
"However, this is all depending on the weather conditions," he said. "If we see a wet weather pattern, and corn planting is delayed, we may see a few more soybean acres."