Irregular weather patterns this past year both harmed and aided Arkansas farmers in their planting and harvesting.
Large amounts of rain significantly delayed planting for all Arkansas crops, including rice, corn and soybeans. Jarrod Hardke, rice extension agronomist for the University of Arkansas’s Rice Research and Extension Center, said this year’s rice planting process was the slowest in 25 years.
"Unfortunately, the running joke through a large portion of 2019 was, 'Well, in September of 2018, it started raining and then it just never stopped,'" Hardke said. According to Hardke, the rainy and cold weather throughout the winter stopped farmers from preparing the land for planting, pushing the planting itself back even further.
"So even when we did get a day or two of sort of dry ground, when it dried up just enough for the next rain, it really wasn’t much planting opportunity," Hardke said. "It was to do some actual tillage to get it ready so when another dry window comes around, maybe we can finally plant something."
Usually, for rice planting, Hardke says farmers try to complete as much planting as they can by late March through April. For this year, it took until May to reach 50% planting. Normally, 50% is reached by mid-April, meaning farmers were weeks behind. They also had to delay the planting of other crops as well, with the rainy conditions causing some crops to be replanted.
"So we had a lot of corn planted again, well on into May, [that were] planted for the first time were replanted. And a lot of our soybeans that we’ve learned that we can achieve better yields…planting earlier, we’re pushing pretty far back, planting a lot of soybeans into June and even July," Hardke said.
The situation was even worse for farmers that dealt with record-breaking flooding along the Arkansas River and other river valleys this past spring. This led to farmers turning in their policies for a record amount of prevented planting insurance, which according to the United States Department of Agriculture, farmers can receive if they are “prevented from planting by an insured cause of loss that is general to the surrounding area and that prevents other producers from planting acreage with similar characteristics.” According to Hardke, this was a record breaking year for that, at least in the case of rice, with over 500,000 acres of rice prevented planted that couldn’t go in the ground at all.
"Which means that that ground stayed too wet and or completely flooded, submerged until the end of May, which is when you hit the prevent planted period," Hardke said.
Greg James produces rice, corn and soybeans in northeast Arkansas, overseeing 6,400 acres. He described this year as "very trying."
"Planting was delayed considerably with just a tremendous amount of wet weather this spring, to the point where we probably prevent planted as many acres as we ever have in my career of farming on this farm," James said. He says his proximity to the Cache River is the biggest reason why he normally purchases prevented planning.
While the continuous rain hindered the planting season, the unusually late and hot summer that happened from late August through September helped the crops that were planted on a greater scale than anticipated.
"Having that late heat come on, we made a lot more yield off of some of those later crops planted than we ever would have imagined at that time, because we got that late heat," Hardke said. These higher than expected yields was the main piece of good news for Arkansas farmers.
"Despite the difficulty of the year, yields were pretty good for growers. So that they’ve largely been pretty happy with what they were able to produce and grow this year. But that doesn’t replace how much we didn’t make because so many acres were left out," Hardke said.
For James, despite the difficult planting season, he had better yields than expected.
"Quite honestly, in lieu of late planting, we had the best corn crop average yield that we’ve ever had and our rice was not terribly off," James said. He also said the warmer late summer "saved him" on his planted rice crop.
"With planting dates as late as they were, one would think you would have a below average yield, and quite honestly we’ve had an average yield and the soybeans that we have harvested have been average to slightly above average," James said. Though the impact of this year’s planting and harvesting season will not be seen overnight, Hardke does expect prices of these crops to eventually increase for the consumer.
"There’s been a gradual uptick in prices here lately and as this cycles, the commodity prices should continue to increase and that’s going to get passed on ultimately to the store shelves for all the various products that rice, soybeans and corn are used in," Hardke said.
Though he had a better harvest than expected, James says he does not want to experience a year like this again.
"This is the year that we’ve all joked about we were all excited to get through with. And we’re not completely finished, but very close and it’s definitely turned out less disastrous than we feared," James said.