First Crop Update of 2018 a Mixed Bag

Thursday, April 5, 2018
Although local producers are being hampered by cold and wet conditions, planting rice in Chicot County got underway last week although wet conditions prompted the use of tracks as opposed to wheels.
(U of A System Division of Agriculture photo by Clay Gibson)

Rice is expected to pick up 170,000 acres for the 2018 growing season in Arkansas, but continued rain here and drought in South America may shift that forecast in favor of soybeans, according to experts with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service issued its “Prospective Plantings” report on Thursday, its acreage forecast based on surveys of growers in Arkansas.

Over the last three weeks, Arkansas has seen heavy rain, with parts of southeastern Arkansas seeing an estimated five inches or more just last week. Meanwhile, Argentina, the world’s top soybean meal exporter and No. 3 producer, is enduring its most severe drought in 40 years.

“Ahead of today's report, I think it was pretty easy to call soybeans, cotton, and rice acres higher in 2018,” said Scott Stiles, extension economist for the Division of Agriculture. “Prices for all three of those crops have been higher year-to-date compared to last year.”

“Rainfall and cool temperatures have delayed planting here in Clay County, where corn is usually the first crop to be planted followed by rice. Usually, late March and the first two weeks of April are prime planting time for both crops,” said Allison Howell, Clay County Extension Agent-Agriculture.

“I am expecting to see a decline in corn acres in Clay County this year, as it appears low prices and unfavorable planting conditions will shift acres to soybeans and rice,” she added. “Last year in Clay County producers planted 30,000 acres of corn, but there are several producers who will be cutting back on corn acres and planting more soybeans.”

Statewide, corn acres are expected to expand by 30,000 acres to 650,000 in 2018, the Planting Intentions report said.

“Anticipated corn acres are nearly the same as last year and the final acres will ultimately depend on the weather over the next few weeks, as current wet weather is delaying planting,” said Jason Kelley, extension wheat and feed grains agronomist. “The increase in corn prices the last few weeks has helped increase acre intentions compared to earlier in the winter.”

Stiles said he was surprised by the increase in corn acres.

“In March we did see new crop corn futures trade above $4, but I thought that run-up in price was a little late to influence planting decisions,” he said. “Besides, soybean and cotton prices were strong too.”

But, similar to soybeans the South American weather problems have supported the corn market.

“Over the last 10 weeks the U.S. export market for corn has really caught fire,” Stiles said. “The fundamental outlook for corn has begun to improve on better demand and prospects of U.S. corn acres being down this year.”

Howell is expecting to see an increase in one crop in 2018, as Clay County producers plant more rice.

“On the other hand, we would expect a large increase in rice acres--as much as 10,000 to 15,000 acres more than last year,” she added. “We had flooding last year which prevented planting on several acres. I expect those fields will go into rice this year depending on conditions between now and May 1. It is important for growers to get rice planted in April to ensure maximum yield potential.”

NASS put Arkansas rice acres at 1.331 million acres for the 2018 season, with most of that growth, 155,000 acres, in long grain. Arkansas is the nation’s largest rice producing state.

“Total rice came in right where I thought the estimates would fall,” said Jarrod Hardke, extension rice agronomist for the Division of Agriculture. “I’m still thinking more like 1.4 million acres total for the moment with most of that difference in higher medium grain acres.”

Hardke noted unless rains push producers extremely late in planting, the early rice intended acres won't change much.

“But, a progressive soybean price increase may entice growers to switch some acres as they sit around watching it rain,” he added.

Weather induced prevented planting – to the tune of almost 220,000 acres last year, “led to a much tighter balance sheet for the 2017-18 marketing year,” Stiles said. “Price-wise, new crop futures have averaged about 76 cents per bushel higher during the first quarter of 2018 compared to last year.”

“We also expect to see an increase in soybean planting by around 5,000 acres compared to last year. You can also expect cotton acres to increase slightly over last year to around 35,000 acres,” Howell concluded. “Grain sorghum may also gain a few acres, but will still be minimal compared to other crops in the county.”

Soybeans were expected to gain 70,000 acres in Arkansas in 2018, growing to 3.6 million acres. No surprises, said Jeremy Ross, extension soybean agronomist for the Division of Agriculture.

“On the soybean acreage, I was anticipating similar acreage that was planted in 2017,” he said. “This was reflected in the intentions report. We could see some gains in soybean acreage if we continue to see rainy weather patterns over the next four weeks.”

“Soybeans and cotton can be planted later than corn and rice, allowing producers the chance to see what the weather does, but still have time to get the crops in,” Howell added. “I find it especially interesting that all crops are projected to increase in acres this year.”

Howell also noted she didn't think Clay County would see as much change in corn production locally.

“It is surprising to see the projected surge in corn acres statewide, although I don’t think we will see corn acres increase here, but perhaps they will south of us,” she offered. “At this point if producers can get a couple of weeks of good planting conditions, there will be a lot of rice planted. If not, we may see a lot of them switch to soybeans.”

Those wanting additional information on crop predictions may visit the University of Arkanas Division of Agriculture website at or call the local office at 870 598-2246.

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

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