Arkansas farmers have taken advantage of two weeks of mostly sunny skies and above-normal temperatures to move ahead of the 2009 and five-year average planting pace, the National Agricultural Statistics Service said.

“Without surprise, we are ahead of last year on planting progress, and we are also ahead of the five-year average,” said Scott Stiles, extension economist-risk management for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. “Assuming things don’t take a turn for the worse, we could have one of the earliest starts to planting in recent history, and an early start generally equals good yield potential.”

However, producers are scanning the skies for rain clouds.

“To temper this enthusiasm, it is dry,” he said.

The National Weather Service at North Little Rock on Tuesday was forecasting a 60 percent chance of rain Friday night, increasing to 50 percent Saturday. The Memphis, Tenn., weather service office, which covers the northern Arkansas Delta, was forecasting a 60 percent chance of showers Friday night, increasing to 70 percent on Saturday, tapering to 40 percent by Saturday night.

“We will really need to see a widespread, soaking rain by that time,” he said. “If we miss the rain this weekend, we go from a concerning moisture situation to a troubling one and that means ‘buying a rain’ and burning diesel” by turning on the water pumps.

“At least in the Jonesboro area, we are more than 1 inch below normal rainfall for this month and more than 3 inches for the year to date,” Stiles said.

According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service figures released Monday:

Corn was 85 percent planted, well ahead of last year’s 53 percent and the 70 percent five-year average. Corn was 48 percent emerged, compared with 25 percent last year and equal to the five-year average.

Cotton was 9 percent planted, ahead of last year’s 1 percent and the five-year average of 4 percent. Stiles said the cotton pace is the fastest in the last 29 years, according to NASS data.

Rice was 53 percent planted, compared with 23 percent last year and 30 percent for the five-year average. Rice was 16 percent emerged, compared to 3 percent last year and the 7 percent five-year average.

• Sorghum was 62 percent planted, ahead of last year’s 14 percent and the 29 percent five-year average. Sorghum was 15 percent emerged, well ahead of last year’s 3 percent and the 10 percent five-year average.

Soybeans were 15 percent planted, compared with 6 percent last year and 9 percent for the five-year average. Soybeans were 5 percent emerged, ahead of last year’s 1 percent and the zero percent five-year average.