Written by Ken Moore, produced by Robert Potter
Arkansas Farm Bureau Public Relations
The Arkansas delta and Grand Prairie is perfectly suited for growing rice. Flat land and natural water resources allow the state to lead the nation in production of this valuable crop. Arkansas County has been one of the top rice producing counties, and Stuttgart promotes itself as the rice capital of the world.
A display in the city’s Museum of the Grand Prairie details the history of rice in Arkansas County. The first plot, 9 feet by 27 feet, was planted by the Hope family on their farm near Stuttgart in 1901. Commercial production began three years later.
So visitors may see the development of the crop and how rice is grown, Arkansas County Farm Bureau planted an identical 9 by 27 plot in front of the museum.
“Seems to be a lot of interest in it. People want to see a field without actually having to go out on a farm somewhere,” said Hank Bueker of Stuttgart, a rice farmer who planted and is tending the plot.
“Some of the visitors, they don’t have any real idea of how it’s grown, what it looks like growing, how you harvest it or how many pounds per acre or bushels it may make. Being here in what we call the rice capital of the world, Stuttgart, Arkansas. It’s what a lot of our economy is based on here and our state also.”
Bruce and Nancy Humiston of Connecticut had never seen a rice field and made it a point to visit the museum on a vacation that included a stop in Stuttgart.
“We were fascinated on the drive in about seeing all these mounds in the fields, some of them irrigated and some not,” said Bruce Humiston. “My wife picked a Triple-A book and saw there was a museum down here and I said we’ve got to find out what this is all about. And I’m glad we did because it’s been fascinating. I can’t believe that rice yields as much as corn in the same acreage, it’s mind-boggling.”
Melanie Baden is director of the museum. She says the rice plot is a great addition and they hope to coordinate the harvest of the plot with the museum’s 40th anniversary in September.
“We’ve always wanted to do this,” Baden said. “Just because, that’s the first thing people say, particularly southeast Asian people that come in here. They want to know exactly how rice is grown and if at all possible we try to get them to a farmer and take them out to a field. But naturally that’s not always available and farmers aren’t always available so having the rice right here on our grounds makes it very easy for us to provide education to students and anybody else wanting to know about the process of growing rice.”
Baden says they expect to host a few thousand visitors this summer and are planning an anniversary celebration that will attract a large crowd. Bueker says it only requires about 30 minutes a week to maintain the plot with a nominal cost, and expects it to become a regular feature at the museum.