Associated Press LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - A year ago, Arkansas rice farmers were bringing in a record harvest after planting early and then weathering a costly drought. This year, growers got a late start and temperatures have been so cool that rice plants are taking longer to mature.
University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Rice Research Center Director Chuck Wilson said Wednesday that the harvest won't likely begin until September. "The harvest will be just starting Labor Day weekend," Wilson said. "At least I think there's going to be some rice ready by then." Wilson said yields will be a bit less than last year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Tuesday projected rice yields to average 160 bushels per acre. "I don't think I'm that optimistic," Wilson said. Arkansas rice grows in the fertile soil in the eastern half of the state. Weather conditions have varied widely between the northern and southern regions. "Some north Arkansas fields never got planted because they never got dry enough to plant," Wilson said. In south Arkansas, growers have been beset by drought and have watched their input costs rise while running their pumps for much of the summer. Much of southeast Arkansas got a welcome downpour on Tuesday, taking a little pressure off growers. "I've got soybean guys that told me they've watered (with irrigation) five to six times," Wilson said. In the northeast, flooding has been a problem in places, with the National Weather Service warning on Wednesday about stretches of the Cache and White rivers leaving their banks. Lows were forecast in the upper 50s for much of the state, with highs in the mid-80s. Wilson said low temperatures aren't a major problem, though the longer a crop stays in the ground, the greater the risk that something else will go wrong, such as a damaging storm moving through. "I don't get too nervous until it gets in the 30s. We have before in August but we're not going to (this year), based on what I'm seeing. I'm not too worried," he said. Rice is a $1 billion crop in Arkansas, with about 1.12 million acres planted this year.