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Arkansas Rice Growers Could See Increased Demand Due To COVID-19

Rice being harvested in Lonoke County on Oct. 11, 2021. Increasing costs have prompted economists to revise this year's crop budgets.
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Rice being harvested in Lonoke County on Oct. 11, 2021. Increasing costs have prompted economists to revise this year's crop budgets.

One of the state's biggest crops could help some Arkansas farmers stay afloat during the economic challenges caused by COVID-19.

Arkansas is the nation's leading rice producer and that may benefit the state in the coming months, says to Dr. Tim Burcham, Director of the Northeast Rice Research and Extension Center for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

"The good news is that from the standpoint of our rice production, again that's holding steady for us right now as far as market prices for rice. With that being one of our leading commodities here in Arkansas, that really helps us out. Of course, we're taking a hit in these other commodity areas."

A rice report produced by the Division of Agriculture in early April, says some other rice-producing countries, like Vietnam and India are limiting their exports as result of COVID-19. This has increased demand for Arkansas rice. However, prices for soybeans and corn, two of the state's other large row crops, have dropped significantly.

Other crops, like strawberries, which are just coming into season in Arkansas, have less certain futures, according to Matthew Davis, also with Division of Agriculture.

"We're putting the crop in the ground right now, but we're not guaranteed a home for it. And that's clearly shown with vegetable growers and fruit producers. Right now, they don't have a home for their crops and a lot of it is having to be destroyed just because it costs too much to even try to harvest and donate. I've seen several try to donate to foodbanks, but at some point that becomes not cost effective either,” Davis said.

Last week the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, which it claims will provide $16 billion in direct support to farmers and $100 million per month for the purchase of fruits and vegetables from farmers across the country. As they wait for details on the new program, Arkansas farmers will continue planting and hoping for less rain than last year.

"We're making strides and trying to move ahead, but I definitely think the weather hasn’t played fair again this year," Davis said. "We've had some issues, but I think, as usual, everybody's resilient. As soon as we get some dry days everybody hits the field running. I talked to one guy yesterday; he was out until 1 o'clock in the morning trying to beat the rain. That's just part of it."

Weather permitting, some predict the state's farmers could plant up to 1.5 million acres of rice, up nearly half a million acres from last year.

David Monteith worked as a reporter for KUAR News between 2015 and July 2022.
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