Arkansas Farmers See Bountiful 2014

Jan 14, 2015

Arkansas growers set or tied state records for yields in six crops in 2014, exceeding the national average in per-acre yield in four categories.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2014 Crop Production Annual Survey released Monday, Arkansas growers set state records for cotton, corn for grain, all rice and long grain rice, soybeans and sweet potatoes. Average yields for corn, cotton, long grain rice and soybeans all exceeded national averages.

At an average 187 bushels per acre, corn yields set records for the third year in a row, although total production fell significantly from 2013, from 161,820 million bushels to 99.1 million bushels, a decrease of 39 percent. The 2014 Arkansas corn yield also exceeded the national average per acre by 16 bushels.

Jason Kelley, an extension agronomist with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said Tuesday that Arkansas growers put themselves in a good position in 2014 to take advantage of fortuitous weather trends.

“We’re doing a lot of things right,” Kelley said. “We’re getting it planted right and selecting good hybrids. The last two years, once we got it planted and got it going, June and July were relatively cool. This year, at least in the Delta, we had the coolest July, on average, on record, which led to really good grain yields.

“That’s probably what got us over the hump as far as the yields. We did everything right up front, had good, cool weather during the last portion of the season, and that’s what helped us maximize our yields,” Kelley said.

Although average yield has steadily increased, he said depressed prices will likely lead to the same or less corn acreage planted in 2015. USDA’s Prospective Plantings report will be issued March 31.

Final average cotton yields are expected to reach 1,193 pounds per acre, according to the report. The number exceeds the 2013 average of 1,133 pounds per acre. Total production also increased year over year, from 720,000 bales to 820,000 bales. A total of 330,000 acres of Arkansas cotton were harvested in 2014, an increase of 25,000 acres over the record low harvested in 2013.

Bill Robertson, Extension Service cotton agronomist in Newport, said moderate fall weather helped many growers overcome a late planting start in 2014.

“A really good fall will make up for a lot of shortcomings that take place throughout the year,” Robertson said. “This last year, the soil was so cold in the spring, we had very little April-planted cotton, which is kind of unusual. The crop struggled, but it just got better than most anyone thought it would — it was a bit of a surprise.”

Robertson said that like several other Arkansas crops, cotton planting acreage will likely decline in 2015, possibly to as little as 300,000 acres.

Average yields for all rice in Arkansas tied record-setting 2013 numbers at 7,560 pounds per acre, but overall production sky-rocketed to more than 11.1 billion pounds across the state, owing to an approximately 38 percent increase in harvested acres, year-over year. Average yields for long grain rice, specifically, set a new state record in 2014 at 7,570 pounds per acre, with total production hitting more than 9.5 billion pounds in Arkansas.

Soybeans hit an average yield of 50 bushels per acre, a new state record and an increase of nearly 15 percent over 2013, even as total harvested acreage dropped by 30,000 acres to 3.21 million. Average Arkansas yields led the national average by 2.2 bushels per acre, and the crop also set a new production record in Arkansas of more than 160 million bushels.

Jeremy Ross, an extension soybean agronomist University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said unseasonably cool Arkansas temperatures through July and August contributed strongly to the 2014 soybean yields.

While soybean production was up, both in Arkansas in the United States, Ross said growers may actually increase planted acreage in 2015, because the crop will still be more lucrative relative to corn.

“Talking to farmers, they’re all talking more soybean acres,” Ross said. “With more soybean acres, if we have another good year that just means prices are probably going to dip even lower than we’re currently at.”

Finally, average sweet potato yields hit 20,000 pounds per acre in 2014, a jump of more than 11 percent of 2013’s average yield. With approximately 3,900 acres harvested, total production also set a new state record of 78 million pounds.