Delta farmers begin harvest after a difficult growing season
By Tristan Bennett
Delta Digital News Service
JONESBORO – Arkansas Delta farmers harvested their crops and took them to market after a difficult growing season.
Farmers experienced many challenges this season as they planted crops and tended to their fields all summer. Chris Grimes, Craighead County Cooperative Extension agent, works with these farmers to ensure they use the most efficient growing methods possible.
“Right now, we are harvesting cotton, soybeans, peanuts, and there’s still a little bit of rice and corn,” he said. “We were delayed planting, which in turn pushed our harvest a little later than normal.”
Other than a few hiccups with rainfall, the harvest continues moving rather smoothly. Many rice farmers like Terry Gray, owner of Thomas Gray Farms, already finished cutting.
“We were probably off 15 bushels an acre from last year. Not a bad crop, but nothing to brag about,” he said.
The wet spring and late planting affected Gray’s crop just as it did many other growers in the area. Some, including Gray, even skipped out on growing soybeans all together rather than plant late.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported in the October Crop Production report a 14.3% nationwide drop in soybean acres planted from last season and a 7.3% drop in yield. Rice harvested experienced a 15% drop from last season.
While yields may be lower, growers report high qualities in their rice crop. Sample houses look at characteristics such as grain length, aroma and stickiness to determine the quality. Factors such as the amount of rainfall, heat and pests affect the quality of the finished product.
“The early part of the crop, the quality is good,” Gray said. “The middle part of the crop got so dry in the field the moisture content got down to 12%. As that grain sits in the bin, it’ll age and come up.”
“The early part of the crop, the quality is good…The middle part of the crop got so dry in the field the moisture content got down to 12%. As that grain sits in the bin, it’ll age and come up.” – Terry Gray, owner of Thomas Gray Farms
After harvesting the crops, farmers take truckloads of grain to driers so it can be properly stored and milled. Rice comes out of the field at a higher moisture content than it can be stored, so it must first be dried before it can be milled.
Riceland Foods markets agricultural commodities for its 6,000 member-owners in Arkansas and Missouri. The Jonesboro Grain Drier accepts both rice and soybeans from their members.
Freddie Gahr, drier manager, handles rice for the Jonesboro area and the mill.
“There was so much rain this past spring and so many acres that went into preventive planting acres that it really hurt our harvest receipts on rice this year,” Gahr said.
In Jonesboro, growers can take advantage of early sign up. They tell Riceland how many acres they intend to market through them, and they might get a better price than they would during the season.
“We can take those acres and convert them to bushels per acre, and we can determine, on rice, what we are going to get during harvest,” Gahr said. “We take soybeans basically as a service for our members.”
For rice, the Jonesboro mill includes four different processes. The parboil mill precooks and steams rice, and the traditional white rice mill removes the hull and polishes the rice. Rivland, a partnership between Riviana and Riceland, produces rice flour, and the by-products division takes bran, sends it to Riceland headquarters in Stuttgart, and they make rice bran cooking oil.
Riceland offers the farmer a certain price per bushel for their crop, and it takes care of drying the grain and milling it to be consumed by the public. The price they give changes daily, but on Friday, Oct. 11, they offered $5.51 per bushel of rough rice, an OK price.
“The prices could be a lot better,” Grimes said. “They vary depending on where they deliver, and they may have it contracted.”
Low prices mean especially difficult times for farm families. Overhead costs such as insurance, taxes and equipment payments never stop, so a low yield could lead to a financial stress for families who rely on farming.
Stress on a farmer could also contribute to family issues.
“When things aren’t going right, I’m sure my kids don’t think I’m quite as nice a dad,” Gray said. “You try not to take that home with you, but sometimes you just come home and you’re really frustrated.”
Despite tough seasons, low prices and stress, farmers like Gray continue to grow year after year.
He said, “Two famous words that come out of a farmer’s house are ‘next year.’ As a farmer, we love what we do, we love taking care of the soil and land, and we are always wanting to promote our vocation.”
Gray said next season may bring higher prices due to the interruption in the market, and many farmers will start out with land already worked, making it an easy planting season.