LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas row crop farmers took advantage of early warm weather during spring to get their seed in the ground, allowing many to dodge the worst effects of the late-summer drought and go to market with some record yields.
The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture says growers of corn, rice and soybeans came away with record production but were out the costs of irrigating through the dry weather.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the Arkansas soybean yield will be 41 bushels per acre, breaking the 2004 record of 39 bushels.
The number of acres planted in soybeans declined slightly from last year, from 3.3 million acres to 3.2 million in 2012.
"The main reason the soybean yields were exceptional for the 2012 season was early planting," said Jeremy Ross, extension soybean specialist for the division. "By the first of May, we had around 60 percent of the soybean crop planted. Typically by the first of May, we usually only have 25 percent planted.
"The second factor that helped to produce these great yields was irrigation," Ross said. "Around 75 percent of the soybean crop was irrigated this past year. Without irrigation, Arkansas soybean producers would not be able to produce these yields."
Corn Belt states normally outproduce Arkansas growers on a per-acre basis. That remained true this year, but the drought narrowed the margin as growers further north don't have the irrigation that Arkansas has.
"Arkansas was only one to two bushels per acre less than many of these states. Usually, the average yield for Arkansas is 10 bushels per acre less than theses states," he said.
The USDA estimate for corn comes in at 177 bushels per acre, much greater than 2011's 142 bushels per acre. Total production is 122.1 million bushels, up from 73.8 million bushels in 2011. Arkansas farmers harvested 690,000 corn acres this year, up from 520,000 acres last year.
"2012 started off as a good year, and ended as a good year," said Jason Kelley, extension corn specialist for the division.
Rice growers produced 7,340 pounds per acre, up 8 percent above last year's 6,770 pounds, and breaking the record of 7,230 pounds per acre set in 2007. Rice acreage was up also, 1.3 million in 2012 compared with 1.2 million acres last year.
"We had an extremely early spring," said Keith Perkins, Lonoke County extension agent for the division. "This allowed us to plant our crop at least two weeks earlier than normal. Normally we get set back by rains or floods, delaying planting."
In Prairie County, "rice yields were impressive on most acres," said Brent Griffin, Prairie County Extension staff chair.
But there was a down side, he said. "Milling quality has led to $1 to 1.50 per bushel discount when selling, taking all the profit. Not all rice farmers are swimming in money."
Cotton production also saw gains. Yield increased 17 pounds to 1,051 pounds of lint per acre, the third highest on record and the highest since 2007.