⋅ BY RYAN McGEENEY ⋅
UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS SYSTEM DIVISION OF AGRICULTURE
Arkansas growers expect to plant approximately 52,000 more acres of principal crops in 2023 than they did in 2022, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report published March 31. While this is only a small ripple amidst the state’s 7 million acres of farmland, it reflects the encouragement of rallying markets in 2022, tempered by high input costs and unpredictable weather.
USDA’s annual Prospective Plantings report reflects growers’ intentions and often provides context for global markets. According to last Friday’s report, Arkansas growers intend to plant more than 7 million acres of soybean, rice, cotton and other major crops this year. Nationally, America’s farmers intend to plant more than 318 million acres.
The most notable shift in this year’s intentions is the fall in Arkansas cotton acres, which fell by 25 percent to 480,000 acres. Vic Ford, associate vice president for agriculture and natural resources for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said a combination of high input costs and low market prices likely made the choice a necessary one for many producers.
“High input costs, such as seeds, fertilizer, chemicals, fuel and equipment combined with low crop prices have made cotton less profitable,” Ford said. “Other crops are being favored because of this.”
Cotton acres fell steeply across the entire country as well, with overall acreage falling 18 percent to less than 11.3 million acres.
The acreage isn’t going fallow, however. Hunter Biram, extension economist for the Division of Agriculture, said growers will simply shift those acres to more profitable crops.
The report, based on survey data gathered by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, noted that the drought conditions that deeply affected agriculture throughout the country for much of 2022 began to lessen in the fall and winter months. The country experienced a “record-setting streak with at least 40 percent drought coverage” of 126 weeks, finally ending in February of this year, the report said.
Pasture area was particularly affected by the drought, the report stated.
On a brighter note, although most input prices remain high relative to pre-pandemic markets, many have fallen significantly from their 2022 peak.
“Key nutrient prices are down year-over-year,” Biram said. “According to Bloomberg Green Markets, urea is down 60 percent, DAP is down 33 percent and potash is down 45 percent compared to this time last year. Given this, I think expected harvest time crop prices are driving prospective plantings,” in addition to annual crop rotations.
DAP, or diammonium phosphate, is one of the most commonly used fertilizers in the world.
Writing for Southern Ag Today, Biram noted in an April 3 article that the NASS projections for planted acreage are generally reliable across both Southern agricultural states and the United States more broadly, especially for corn and soybeans.
Winter wheat and feed grains
Arkansas growers expanded wheat acreage by about 5 percent, from 220,000 in 2022 to 230,000 acres. Nationally, winter wheat acres grew by 13 percent.
Jason Kelley, extension wheat and feed grains agronomist for the Division of Agriculture, said that cost-benefit analysis played a strong hand in the shift of acreage toward wheat.
“Winter wheat seedings increased slightly during the fall of 2022, partially due to the reduction in fertilizer costs and attractive grain prices,” Kelley said. “The dry fall was helpful for farmers to get their summer crops harvested ahead of wheat planting, but wet weather in late October and November limited wheat acres in some areas of the state.”
Arkansas hay production appears likely to increase marginally, rising 3 percent to more than 1.1 million acres. Nationally, hay acreage looks to expand by about 2 percent to more than 50.6 million acres.
The state’s corn growers appear optimistic about the crop’s future, increasing acreage 14 percent to 810,000 acres. By comparison, the prediction for all U.S. corn acreage increased by only 4 percent.
There were “no real surprises on the corn side,” Kelley said. “We expected corn acres to be up in 2023 compared to last year’s 750,000 acres. The drop in fertilizer prices along with still relatively high grain prices helped increase interest in corn planting intentions in Arkansas and across the United States as well.
“Last year, corn acres were down in some areas of the state due to wet conditions in April that prevented planting, so this year’s increase is also a reflection of producers trying to get back to their normal crop rotation,” he said.
Arkansas rice acreage looks to increase by 18 percent over 2022 intentions, to more than 1.3 million acres, accounting for long-, medium- and short-grain varieties. Nationally, growers expect to expand their acreage by 16 percent to nearly 2.6 million acres.
Jarrod Hardke, extension rice agronomist for the Division of Agriculture, said the 2023 numbers were unsurprising.
“Prospective plantings report intentions were right in line with expectations at this point,” Hardke said. “We’ve been predicting about 1.3 million acres of rice total. The question mark has been more around the breakdown of long grain versus medium grain.
“Two straight lower acreage years for rice in Arkansas — 2021-2022 — have had growers geared up for more rice acres in 2023,” he said. “There was better land preparation last fall than we have seen in some time; however, the winter turned and remained wet once again so there’s still a lot of ground waiting to be prepared for planting.
“Whether we meet or exceed the 1.3 million acres of rice intended will once again depend on favorable weather in April, which is not off to a great start,” Hardke said. “However, there was a nice start to rice planting up and down the state over the past week where ground could be found dry enough to plant.”
Arkansas soybean growers appear to be planting slightly fewer acres of the crop in 2023, with intended acreage falling 4 percent to just over 3 million acres. Nationally, acreage for the crop remains steady from 2022 at 87.5 million acres.
Jeremy Ross, extension soybean agronomist for the Division of Agriculture, said that final acreage for the state’s largest crop is largely weather-dependent.
“The final numbers are going to be dictated by the weather over the next three months,” Ross said. “If we stay in this pattern that we’ve been in, we may see more soybean acres.
There’s been quite a bit of beans planted in the last five or six days.”
Arkansas remains a small-but-mighty peanut-producing state, with intended acres growing 6 percent to 35,000 acres. Nationally, intended peanut acres grew 7 percent to more than 1.5 million acres.
Travis Faske, extension plant pathologist and acting peanut agronomist for the Division of Agriculture, said the modest increase in peanut acres was another factor related to the significant drop in cotton acreage.