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Heavy rice haul.

UA Cooperative Extension Service Predicts Arkansas' Highest Production Ever At 158.4 Million Bushels, But Prices Are Down

Arkansas rice farmers are looking at a record-breaking rice harvest, according to the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.

The service estimates that farmers will harvest 7.1 billion pounds or 158.4 million bushels this year, up 7 percent from last year and the highest production ever recorded in Arkansas.

Arkansas, the nation's largest rice producer, last year raised 38.7 percent of the country's rice with a crop valued at $504.1 million.

The previous highest production, according to Extension Service records dating to 1960, occurred in 1981 when a crop of 6.9 billion pounds or 153.3 million bushels was harvested.

"The Arkansas rice crop, overall, appears to be very good," says Bill Reed, a spokesman for Riceland Foods Inc. in Stuttgart. "With about 95 percent of the crop harvested in northeast Arkansas, it's safe to say that the crop there is just as good as it was in the southern half of the state, where the harvest is virtually complete."

The huge harvest does not appear to be relating to a larger-than-average money return.

The cash market price of rice on Tuesday, Oct. 13, at two Arkansas locations ranged from $6.31-$6.50 per 100 pounds, according to Billy Herrington, an Extension Service economist.

The seasonal average market price for rice the last marketing year was about $7.50 per 100 pounds. The U.S. Agriculture Department projected a $6.50-$7.50 range this year.

Rice's price decrease is attributed to a slow export demand and a downward trend in world prices.

"We had a real good crop up here," says James Peachey, a county agent in Craighead County, which grows 75,000 acres. "The early maturing rice yielded better than the later rice. We had a lot of yields in the 150-175 bushel range.

"Farmers are happy with the yields, but the prices are just not there. Input costs like chemical and energy to produce the crop are constantly increasing."

Keith Glover, head of Producers Rice Mill Inc. in Stuttgart, says deficiency payments from the government should be better, though, taking up some of the slack.

"The deficiency money could be as much as 40-50 cents a bushel higher than last year," he says.

An increase in statewide average yield -- from 5,300 pounds an acre last year to 5,400 this year -- is one reason for the possible record crop size. Also, total rice acreage this year was up 5 percent to 1.32 million acres.

Another factor was the switch by many farmers from the older Newbonnet variety, devastated last year by blast disease, to newer, university-bred varieties like Katy and Alan and Millie.

Katy resists blast. Alan and Millie tend to mature before blast can hurt it.

About 80 percent of the varieties used in Arkansas are products of the university breeding program funded by a voluntary grower checkoff, says Dr. Ronnie Helms, an Extension Service rice specialist.

County agents throughout the northeast part of the state report good-to-outstanding yields.

"In general, it was a pretty good crop, especially the Alan variety," says Rick Thompson of Cross County, which harvested 100,000 acres. "Up until this year, Newbonnet has been our major variety, but it dropped to No. 2 this year. Alan had 34 percent of the acreage and Newbonnet had 25 percent ... It's going to take over a lot more next year because Newbonnet did not do well this year."

Jackson County's Randy Chlapecka says the crop is "nothing real spectacular but good, consistent yields. It's probably one of our top three crops we've ever had as far as yields go."

Early growing season problems led Chlapecka to think the rice crop would not be strong "but it really surprised me." Crop averages there are about 120-125 bushels over 75,000 acres.

Quinton Hornsby of Lonoke County says some farmers reported 200 bushels, or 9,000 pounds, an acre.

"We had some shift in acreage away from Newbonnet to Katy," he says. "Some fields of Newbonnet had blast disease and some of those fields cut under 100 bushels."

Glover says lines of farm trucks hauling rice to Producers Rice Mill are longer than any since 1981, the previous record crop. He adds that milling quality is better than last year with apparently less damage from insects, disease and rain.
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Title Annotation:Across Arkansas; Arkansas rice harvest
Author:Harris, Jim
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Oct 19, 1992
Previous Article:Bringing Helena back.
Next Article:Money smells sweet in Heber Springs.

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