Prolonged rains in some rice-growing areas of Arkansas and Missouri are forcing rice farmers to delay planting until fields can dry out. The hardest-hit areas for rice producers include Northeast Arkansas and Stoddard and Butler Counties in Missouri. In addition, news reports confirm a levee breach in Popular Bluff, forcing the evacuation of residents and the deployment of 200 National Guard troops.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Crop Progress report released yesterday indicates that rice planting is 33 percentage points behind the five-year average in Missouri and 12 percentage points lower in Arkansas. "Each rain event in Northeast Arkansas further delays planting," said Dr. Chuck Wilson, interim director of the University of Arkansas Rice Research and Extension Center. "All rice farmers need at this point is a good stretch of dry weather to allow fields to drain and get the crop planted," he added.

Southeast Missouri State Research Fellow Donn Beighley said that while Missouri is also challenged by too much rain over a very short period of time, which has delayed rice planting in virtually all rice-producing areas of the state over the last week, the problem for some Missouri growers is exacerbated by the levee breach. "A large percentage of the rice produced in the state is grown in Stoddard and Butler counties," Beighley said, adding that Poplar Bluff is in Butler County. "How long it takes to dry out will depend on the soil type and drainage capabilities of the field, but at the minimum, it will take about seven days once the water gets off a field."

Wilson and Beighley agreed that it is too soon to talk about any potential impact to the rice crop, but it's uncommon for rice growers to plant much beyond mid-May.