Rice acreage is projected to increase in 2019, both in Arkansas and across the U.S., officials say. It’s no secret agriculture makes up a big chunk of Arkansas’ economy, and rice is among the top crops grown in The Natural State.
The projections are based on estimates from November 2018, the last set of numbers put out by the U.S. Department of Agriculture before the government shutdown, according to Brandy Carroll with the Arkansas Farm Bureau.
“Current projections show rice acres increasing a bit in 2019 to 1.5 million acres in Arkansas, and 2.960 million across the U.S.,” Carroll said.
She added, “Total use [is] not keeping pace with the increased production, resulting in projected ending stocks of 44.2 million hundredweight, up from 29.4 million to end the 2017-2018 marketing year.”
For those not familiar with the term, hundredweight is a mass measurement of rice. It’s equal to 100 pounds of rough rice or 2.22 bushels, according to the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Research & Extension.
Rice has been an established crop in Arkansas since around 1910, according to the Arkansas Farm Bureau. The bureau said it was almost an accident that rice became an Arkansas agricultural staple. In August 1896, W. H. Fuller, who would go on to become known as the “Father of Arkansas Rice,” was on a hunting trip in Louisiana. It was there he first saw rice being grown.
The Arkansas Farm Bureau said Fuller, his brother-in-law John Morris and John’s wife Emma would go on to found the Arkansas rice industry.
Now rice is grown in 40 of Arkansas’ 75 counties, and the Natural State is the largest producer of this crop among the six major rice producing states, according to the Arkansas Rice Council. The council said Arkansas actually accounts for more than 50 percent of U.S. rice production.
The Arkansas Rice Council said the Natural State is home to 2,300 rice farms, and 96 percent of them are family-owned and operated.
Rice is a major agricultural force in Arkansas, contributing more than $6 billion to the state’s economy annually, the council said. That means jobs for more than 25,000 Arkansans.
And despite a projected increase in state rice acreage, the Arkansas Rice Council said over the past two decades rice farmers have decreased land use by 35 percent, energy use by 38 percent and water use by 53 percent.
As for the USDA projections, the numbers are subject to change based on a host of conditions.
“Seed availability, weather and the price of rice and other potential crops like soybeans will all influence producer decision making, so the numbers are subject to change,” Carroll said.
Looking forward, rice and other crops will only become more important as the world population charges forward to an estimated 9 billion by 2050. Right now, the Arkansas Rice Council said the average farmer produces enough food for 154 people. In the next 50 years farmers around the world will have to feed more people than they did over the previous century, according to the Arkansas Farm Bureau.
Rice will likely continue to play a large role in feeding the world, and that means the crop’s importance to Arkansas will also grow.