The economy of Arkansas is largely dependent on agriculture. The statistics are staggering. According to the Arkansas State Agricultural Overview of 2004, approximately 36 percent of the state’s land is farmland and as much as 63 percent of the state’s agricultural revenue is generated from livestock products while the state’s crop production is placed at about 37 percent.
Broilers and young chickens are the most important livestock products in Arkansas. The young chickens are either sold whole or in parts. Arkansas and Georgia are the top two states in the nation in terms of broiler production. Broilers alone make up about 41 percent of livestock production in the state. The other livestock products in the state are cattle, calves, chicken eggs, aquaculture, and turkeys.
Rice is the most important crop produced in Arkansas. In the United States, Arkansas is one of the leading producers of rice and contributes about 46 percent of the nation’s supply. The other crops produced in Arkansas in large quantities are soybeans, corn, cotton, grain sorghum, and wheat.
The production of rice in Arkansas dates back to 1902. The first one acre of rice was located at Lonoke County. There are other records that suggest that before the Civil War rice was grown in several parts of the state. The official record of rice production in this area which contains prices, harvested acres, and yield has been kept since 1905.
Over the next 5 decades, rice acreage increased significantly. Until 1955 when the first government land regulation stabilized the production of rice on 500,000 acres. This embargo was lifted in 1974 and again rice acreage rose sharply. The highest recorded rice harvest on 1.785 million acres in Arkansas was in 2010
There are 75 counties in Arkansas and rice is grown in 40 of them. Rice producers in 2017 in Arkansas had the highest harvest on record of 1,104,000 acres. The state’s average rice yield in 2017 was also the third highest on record counting 46 percent of total rice production in the nation and 47 percent of total rice cultivation in 2017. The eastern one-half of the state is the primary rice-producing area. Rice Research and Extension personnel are always working hard to come up with new resolutions to improve rice production in this area.
In the entire United States, Arkansas’ production of soft red winter wheat ranks the highest. Wheat acreage has also increased in recent years reaching an average of 600,000 acres. The yield has also increased to 58 bushels per acre. Following harvest, wheat acres are usually double-cropped with soybeans.
The majority of wheat production happens in three different regions of the state namely Mississippi River Delta region, Red River Valley region, and Arkansas River Valley region in eastern, southern, and western Arkansas respectively.
The planting is usually done between October and November and harvested in early June. University of Arkansas System’s Division of Agriculture’s department, The Cooperative Extension Service is tasked with providing research-based information geared at making the production of wheat more profitable.
The largest plantation of corn in recent times was in 2013 when farmers planted 1 million acres of corn. This is second largest to the 1951 record 1.05 million acres. The profit potential has led to an increase in corn acreage in the last 15 years and this is partly because corn acreage is taking over the declining cotton acres.
As much as 90 percent of Arkansas crop production is through irrigation. Irrigation has also been the secret of improved production. In the past, much of the product is exported through the Mississippi River but in recent times a growing percentage of the product is utilized by the poultry feed mills in the state.
The planting of corn usually occurs between March and April and harvested between August and September. Research and Extension personnel are constantly working to improve practices and make recommendations on how production can be further improved.
Soybeans (Glycine max) acreage in Arkansas is about 3.3 million acres bringing in as much as $1.7 billion annual revenue. The average yield of the state is about 40 bushels per acre. Soybean is gaining prominence in human diet but largely used as a high protein supplement in livestock feeds.
The biodiesel industry has also impacted positively on the United States soybean market. As much as 30 to 40 percent of soybean produced in the United States is exported. Out of the 75 counties in Arkansas, soybean is currently grown in 41 of them making it one of the top three crops cultivated by Arkansas farmers.
The record has it that the origin of soybean can be traced back to China. Its growth in the United States started around the late 1800s and early 1900s. While it was a food crop in China, its early growth in the United States was for forage. Soybean arrived in Arkansas in 1925 and gained popularity in the nation between 1940 and 1950. Based on acreage, it is now the second largest row crop in the United States.
Inasmuch as cotton production in Arkansas is declining, the state is still leading in cotton production in the nation. According to the Arkansas Crop Production Annual Summary of 2016, about 375,000 acres of cotton harvest was recorded with an expected average of 1,075 pounds per acre. The production forecast is estimated to reach 840,000 bales.
Some of the national rankings Arkansas cotton has bagged include 4th for the size of acres planted, 4th for production, and 7th for lint yield per acre. Ongoing research and education to further increase cotton production profitability are carried out by the Cooperative Extension Service which is part of the University of Arkansas System’s Division of Agriculture.
In 2016, peanut production in Arkansas added about $8 million to the state’s economy. The total harvest for nuts in the state in 2014 was put at 13,592 making in the 10th leading cultivation of the crop in the nation. There are efforts to improve peanut production in the state.