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Rice, soybeans are farmers' picks

Corn drops in state as growers focus on higher profits by Glen Chase | July 1, 2014 at 2:30 a.m.

Correction: Arkansas’ principal crop acreage planted in 2014 increased slightly to 7.73 million acres compared with the 7.68 million acres in 2013. This story incorrectly described the change.

Arkansas row-crop farmers planted more rice, soybeans and cotton this year, shifting away from corn as they dealt with frequent rains and cool temperatures during spring planting.

Overall, growers in Arkansas planted 7.73 million acres of principal crops in 2014, a slight drop from the 7.68 million acres planted in 2013, according to a report released Monday by the U.S. Agriculture Department's National Agricultural Statistics Service.

The state's rice acreage saw the biggest jump in 2014, up 46 percent from 1.07 million acres planted in 2013 to 1.57 million this year.

In March, the statistics service estimated about 1.52 million acres of rice would be planted in Arkansas. Arkansas, which produces nearly half the nation's rice, led the national trend toward more rice acreage. The service said overall U.S. rice acreage was up 22 percent compared to a year ago.

Chuck Wilson, director of rice research for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, said the jump in rice acreage boiled down to growers looking for profitable crops, noting that rice has a pretty favorable market outlook.

"It's all related to the competitiveness of other crops," Wilson said. "If you go back two years ago, soybean prices were extremely high; corn prices were extremely high. Soybeans have dropped off a little, corn has dropped off quite a bit, and rice prices have remained stable."

On Monday, the price of corn and soybeans dropped after the USDA reported farmers have planted 84.4 million acres of soybeans. And corn stockpiles rose to 3.8 billion bushels, higher than estimates. Soybeans for November delivery fell to $11.57 per bushel at the Chicago Board of Trade, according to Bloomberg News, and corn for December delivery dropped to $4.25 per bushel, its lowest price since January.

Coming off a year that produced record soybean yields, Arkansas farmers also planted 4 percent more soybeans in 2014, despite the wet weather. Growers planted 3.4 million acres, the most of any row crop, up 140,000 acres compared to the 3.26 million acres planted in 2013.

Jeremy Ross, a soybean agronomist for the UA Division of Agriculture, said growers base planting decisions on the rise and fall of commodity prices.

Arkansas farmers planted about a third less corn. Acreage dropped 34 percent from 880,000 acres in 2013 to 580,000 acres this year. In its prospective plantings report March 31, the statistics service estimated that growers would plant about 600,000 acres in corn this year.

"The interest in corn has dropped a little bit this year," Ross said.

And wet weather during the corn-planting season cut into acreage, he said. Ideally, corn planting in Arkansas lasts about a month, running from mid-March through mid-April.

"Once you get really past that April 15 planting, yields start decreasing a little bit as you delay planting," Ross said.

Soybeans can be planted as early as March 1 in southern Arkansas through the end of June.

Cotton acreage rose in Arkansas after several years of declines. The report said that 360,000 acres were planted in cotton this year, up 16.1 percent over 2013. In March, the statistics service estimated that cotton acreage would rise compared to 2013 to 340,000 acres.

"A lot of growers got back into cotton looking at prices of other commodities, where corn was versus where cotton was on the value they were going to get potentially out of the crop this year," said Tom Barber, associate professor and extension weed specialist for the Division of Agriculture's Cooperative Extension Service.

While the increase is a good thing, Barber noted it's still well short of the 595,000 acres of cotton growers planted in 2012. The decline has resulted in many gin operations closing or consolidating over the past several years. Barber said he's seeing a jump in cotton acreage in the eastern half of the state south of Interstate 40. He said much of the planting is probably on leased land or land owned by the ginning companies.

Barber said the added acreage is good for cotton ginning operations, helping the gins open for another year. Cotton is very labor intensive, he said, creating jobs at harvest, ginning, warehousing and seed processing. "It's a job builder if we can get that acreage back."

Other crop acreage for Arkansas reported Monday included:

• Winter wheat dropped from 680,000 acres in 2013 to 440,000 acres, a drop of 35.3 percent.

• Hay acreage fell from 1.34 million acres last year to 1.23 million acres in 2014.

• Sorghum acreage rose to 140,000 acres, compared to 130,000 acres last year.

Wilson said he was expecting about 1.5 million acres of rice to be planted this year -- and had seen some early estimates that predicted rice plantings could reach 1.7 million acres. While price was an issue, the new farm bill caused some uncertainty for growers, which caused many to turn to rice as a competitive crop as growers sort out how it will be implemented, Wilson said.

Jarrod Hardke, a rice agronomist with the UA Division of Agriculture's Cooperative Extension Service, said weather definitely played a role in rice planting.

In talking with growers, "My usual question is, 'Which three-day window did you plant your rice in?'" Hardke said.

He said he was surprised by the "diligence and persistence" of growers who kept planting, despite the frequent rains that hit the state in early June. The optimum period to plant rice runs from April 1 through June 1, but some farmers were still planting fields about June 20.

But he agreed that the drop in Arkansas' rice acreage in 2013 reflected higher prices that year for soybeans and corn. Hardke said rising demand for medium- and long-grain rice also pushed more planting this year.

"It's all about profit margins and bottom line," Hardke said.

Late plantings come with the potential for higher production costs, such as pesticide applications. And, hot days and nights during pollination can have a big effect on grain quality and yields.

Business on 07/01/2014

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