WITH A QUICKNESS — Row crop planting in Arkansas is racing ahead at a rate not seen in the last five years, with more than 83 percent of rice acres already planted — nearly double the five-year average for this point in the season. (Division of Agriculture photo)

Fast Facts:

  • Corn, rice, soybean planting all far ahead of five-year averages
  • Hardke: Early planting gives growers best chance of high yields
  • Harvest time may prove difficult to manage

Little Rock, AR (May 3, 2024) — You could be forgiven for wondering who fired the starting pistol so early.

Row crop planting in Arkansas is racing ahead at a rate not seen in the last five years. According to an April 29 U.S. Department of Agriculture report, 83 percent of the state’s planned rice acreage had been planted — nearly double the five-year average for this point in the season.

Arkansas soybeans are even further ahead of expectations, with 56 percent of planned acreage already planted, compared with the five-year average of 23 percent normally planted in the last week of April. The state’s corn crop, too, is racing ahead of its five-year average, with 81 percent of planned acreage already in the ground.

Jarrod Hardke, extension rice agronomist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said the roots of the 2024 season’s rapid pace lay in the relatively dry winter that preceded it.

“We’re on a sort of parallel to last year’s planting season,” Hardke said. “Growers were able to complete an enormous amount of field preparation over the winter months, and as soon as the early planting window opened up, they hit the ground running.”

Of course, that parallel carries a certain burden. While Arkansas growers enjoyed near-record rice yields last year, a region-wide “traffic jam” between harvesters and mills caused much of that yield to suffer in quality, as high heat and humidity took their toll on grain kernels as they languished in the fields.

Hardke said that while the weather, regardless of the season, is beyond human control, growers almost always benefit from early planting.

“Early planting gives you the best chance of maximizing yields,” he said. “If you have an opportunity to plant and you choose not to, it’s a gamble. For all we know, it’s going to start raining and never really let up for the rest of the spring. Take advantage of the windows you’re given.

“Northeast counties have received low rainfall this spring and an elongated planting window, while as you move southward, rain amounts have been increasingly higher and planting windows fewer and further between,” Hardke said.

With so many different crops going into the ground at once, producers may find themselves with serious time management challenges come harvest time.

“As we break the traditional mold of planting corn, then rice, then beans, we’re going to have to be flexible and responsive in terms of our stages of management,” Hardke said. “My best advice is to start harvest on the early side so that more of the overall harvest is within the optimal timing.”

To learn about extension programs in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit www.uaex.uada.edu. Follow us on X and Instagram at @AR_Extension. To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: https://aaes.uada.edu/. Follow on X at @ArkAgResearch. To learn more about the Division of Agriculture, visit https://uada.edu/. Follow us on X at @AgInArk.