Arkansas will keep its crown in 2007 as the nation’s leading rice grower by producing an estimated 95.4 million hundredweight of rice. That’s about 48 percent of the nation’s total rice output, said Bobby Coats, agricultural policy analysis for the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.

California is the second-largest rice producing state followed by Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas.

Along the way, Arkansas farmers managed to set a new statewide average yield record. The Arkansas Agricultural Statistics Service estimates Arkansas rice producers harvested a statewide average of 7,200 pounds (160 bushels) per acre.

“If that holds true, Arkansas producers will exceed their previous (2004) record yield by 220 pounds, or 4.9 bushels, per acre,” Coats said. “Arkansas rice producers will harvest an estimated 1.33 million acres of rice, about 75,000 fewer acres than in 2006.”

Records were also set in the university’s Rice Research Verification Program, according to Stewart Runsick, program coordinator for the extension service.

“We set a record in the 24-year history of the verification program with an average of 189 bushels,” Runsick said. “The previous high was 172. We continue to be about 20 bushels or so better than the state average.”

Runsick attributed the high verification yield average to participating growers across the state using intensive management practices and following UA research-based extension recommendations.

“Every year, we get a little better,” Runsick said, “but this year was exceptional.”

As impressive as 189 bushels is, a verification farm in Pope County harvested 231 bushels an acre, a program individual record. Runsick said Arkansas River Valley Farm leveled 600 acres of land to a zero grade, applied 3 to 4 tons of chicken litter and planted XP 723, a RiceTec hybrid. Intensive management was used through the growing season.

The weather is probably the major factor that helped all rice farmers in the state in 2007, Runsick said. Many farmers, helped by dry March and April weather, planted earlier than normal.

“This is the first year I can remember that we had rice emerged in March,” he said. “Earlier planting seems to always lead to higher yields.”

The rest of the season was also favorable. “We saw cool temperatures during flowering, which contributed to higher yields and quality. The crop overall was ahead of schedule as far as maturity.”

Rice planted after April 20 probably suffered some, Runsick noted, and yields probably fell off, but the majority of the crop was planted before April 20.

Farmers also had access to better varieties. More farmers are planting hybrids every year that seem to be better yielding than conventional varieties, according to Runsick.

To sweeten the pot, farmers enjoyed better prices for their rice this year. Many of them booked rice for $5 a bushel, an excellent price, Runsick said.

e-mail: ljames@uaex.edu