Rice: Storms Bring Disaster to Arkansas Rice Country

U of A System Division of Agiculture photo by Dave Freeze

The storms that started Saturday night overflowed rain gauges up and down the Arkansas Delta, and forecasts show another rain event coming through tomorrow to add to the area’s already swollen waterways.

Jeff Rutledge, a rice farmer in Jackson County, whose farm is located where the surging Black and White Rivers merge, said, “As of now, the only way we can get to our farm shop is by boat.  We are headed up in a plane later today to determine the scope of damage.”

Governor Asa Hutchinson has declared a state of emergency as the powerful storms continue to wreak havoc, particularly in the northeast part of the state, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports rivers in that area, already well above flood stage, are expected to rise on into the coming weekend.

“At this point, it looks like we could lose 100,000 acres of rice in the state, but that could be lowballing it as the heaviest floodwaters are due later in the week,” said Jarrod Hardke, an Extension rice agronomist with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

“Similar to the 2011 flood, the Black River is expected to exceed historic levels.  But unlike 2011 when only 45 percent of the rice had been planted, 89 percent of this year’s crop is already in the ground.  That loss on input costs will push the overall impact of this weather event even higher.  In addition, downstream areas have not realized the full impact of flooding as waterways have yet to reach their projected flood levels.”

“The excessive rainfall hit us hard and then the lack of drainage due to flooding rivers only compounds the problem,” said Jennifer James, another rice farmer in Jackson County.  “We were off to a really good start on this crop year and Mother Nature had other plans.  In the end, it will likely be weeks before the extent of the damage and losses can accurately be determined.”

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Assistance from the Federal government that takes the form of low interest loans from either the Small Business Administration or the Farm Service Agency at USDA requires a federal disaster declaration.

“At the moment, the best the rice industry can hope for is quickly receding waters, but the rain hasn’t even stopped yet,” said Ben Mosely, USA Rice vice president of government affairs.  “Private crop insurance assistance, in the form of replanting or preventative planting coverage can’t begin to be calculated until June 10 – the last day of potential planting.”

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