JONESBORO, Ark. — While spring floods left many rice farmers with fewer acres of rice than they originally planned, they’re hopeful a rising market can offset at least some of the lost acreage.
“We had 1,400 acres, and we were able to salvage 150 (acres),” Lynn farmer Jerry Morgan said. “The rest of it failed.”
Morgan said when the levee in Pocahontas broke in May due to record floods, it sent water into the Lawrence County area, hurting the rice crop. With all of the recent flooding, Morgan said there is no more “room for error” for farmers.
Pocahontas farmer Greg Baltz said he’s down about 20 percent in acreage, but said he’s got some early and late crops that are looking good. In 2016, farmers were hit by excess rain, in both May and August, but Morgan, along with other farmers, said the damage done wasn’t enough to recoup losses through insurance coverage. This year, however, that changed, with insurance able to cover losses, though a profit remains almost impossible, Morgan said.
“We lost enough (insurance) is going to pay us some,” Morgan said, though the exact amount he’ll be able to recover isn’t yet known. “… You’re not going to make any money. It hurts. On top of last year, when we didn’t get any relief, it makes it difficult.”
While flooding makes work hard for farmers in Northeast Arkansas, the rice market as a whole is up, Morgan said, with the latest numbers in the $12 per hundredweight range.
“It hasn’t been there in a while,” Morgan said.
If rice can wind up at about $6 per bushel, Sedgwick farmer Mitch Worlow said, that would be great.
“When it’s down below $5, bankers tighten up,” Worlow said.
While the market is up, Baltz said without a positive yield, the increased value of rice won’t mean much. Craighead County Extension Agent Branon Thiesse said rice is starting to head, so at this time, it’s hard to tell exactly how the market will look compared to previous years. The recent hot temperatures also hurt the crop, Thiesse said.
“As it goes through the flowering period, cooler temperatures will really help,” Thiesse said. “… Higher temperatures lead to pollination issues.”
Worlow added that rice needs to not work as hard at night, and needs cooler temperatures to help it rest. Morgan said the country’s recent deal with China to send American rice to the country for the first time in history has a chance to make a major difference.
“If China bought every grain (of rice) that we grew, it’d last them 13 days,” Morgan said. “… I really see potential for the rice market.”
USA Rice, an industry association, confirmed Morgan’s assertion about how long the rice would last. China is the largest consumer, producer and importer of rice in the world, according to the association. The new deal was announced July 20 by Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. While challenges remain, Morgan is confident rice has a good future.
“I’m optimistic about rice, and have been,” Morgan said.