Rice Farming

 - Specialists Speaking -


Planting delayed, yet acres increased

Extension Rice Agronomist

As I write, we are still wrapping up harvest in parts of Arkansas. Challenges have abounded as the weather, the markets and input costs all contributed to a very frustrating year. And, yet, for some growers, this may end up being a positive year economically.

Although planting was delayed, rice acreage for 2008 increased over 2007 to 1.39 million acres, an increase of approximately 70,000 acres spurred by optimism in commodity prices. Wells was the most widely planted variety, followed by RiceTec CL XL729, CL171- AR, Francis and RiceTec CL XL730. Yield estimated by the USDA at the time of this writing stands at 6,900 lbs/acre (153 bushels/acre), which is about five bushels/acre less than 2007.

Spring rains delayed planting for growers by as much as two to four weeks. Later-planted rice has consistently resulted in lower yields than early planted rice. Extreme heat in July followed by abnormally cool temperatures in August and September also contributed to less than ideal conditions. Early cool temperatures in a fall when the crop was planted later than normal generally cause a reduction in the length of the ideal growing season. Subsequently, the delay in crop development was compounded. Also, the hurricanes certainly took their share of the much needed yield, and the shattering following Ike served as an in-your-face reminder. Lodging is bad enough, but shattering losses are totally unrecoverable.

In spite of the challenges encountered during 2008, there were a few bright spots. Some growers have been able to make a profit by reducing input costs and maintaining moderate yields. The Rice Research Verification Program, coordinated by Stewart Runsick and Ralph Mazzanti, continues to demonstrate the benefits of careful scouting, economic thresholds and timeliness of applications. Although the average yields for this program are down from 2007, they continue to be 15 to 20 bushels above the state average, and input costs are typically less than the state average.

Now is the time to enjoy the holidays and prepare for next year. Hopefully, in reviewing your operation, you can look back and find areas to improve that will make your farm more profitable.

Wet weather takes toll


With high rice prices and riding on the coattails of two consecutive years of record yields, the hope of a record three-peat was on the minds of many. Those hopes soon diminished after harvest, and to say the least, this was a disappointing year for rice yields. The October USDA yield projection for Mississippi was set at 7,200 lbs/acre (160 bu/acre), which would be slightly lower than last year. I believe that once the last bushel of rice is counted, the state average yield will be lower and could possibly be around 6,500 lbs/acre (144 bu/acre). The latest USDA acreage report has set Mississippi at 229,000 harvestable acres, which is up 21 percent from 2007. The increase in acres is mainly due to high rice prices.

The 2008 rice crop was planted later than normal. By April 15 only 25 percent of the crop was planted. In 2007, I would estimate that 75 percent of the crop was planted by April 15. Also, a considerable portion (~25 percent) of the rice crop was planted after May 15.

This delay was mainly due to a wet spring and planting behind wheat. In general, later-planted rice yields lower than rice that is planted in April. This was very evident this year. Rice yields for the later-planted rice have ranged from 4,500 lbs/acre (100 bu/acre) to 5,625 lbs/acre (125 bu/acre).

Wet weather in the spring delayed planting, and wet weather in August and September affected pollination and delayed maturity in later planted rice. The total rainfall received during August and September was in excess of 12 inches, which is significantly higher than 2007. Also, the average temperature for August and September was significantly lower than in previous years.

Now is a good time to reflect over the last year. Begin by looking at areas in which to make improvements. The biggest input a producer can put into a crop is making timely management decisions. Looking at next year, rice acres for Mississippi are uncertain. So far, planting intentions for any commodity in 2009 have shown very little direction. It is very possible that Mississippi rice acres will be higher in 2009, but it will heavily depend on the price of rice and inputs.

2008 – The never- ending season


I will remember 2008 as the never-ending season. At this writing, over seven months have elapsed since our first verification field was planted, and we still have one more second crop field to harvest. We got a late start because of weather conditions and season prices that were so low at the end of 2007 that folks swore off planting rice in 2008.

Then the prices shot up, catching many off guard. By the time farmers arranged financing and got into the field, many were well past the recommended planting dates. This really came back to haunt them at harvest time.

Each year, environmental conditions seem to favor one pest or another. This year was the year of chinch bugs from southwest to northeast Louisiana. It might have been because our drilled acres have increased. It was also a year of phosphorus deficiency. Several cases developed all around the same time, leading to speculation about the role of the environment in phosphorus nutrition.

About the time fields from central Louisiana to the Arkansas line were reaching the point of establishing permanent flood, calls about glyphosate drift started coming in. Also, while Clearfield rice has been a tremendous success in most cases as is evidenced by the acreage devoted to it, it also brought with it another drift problem. Between me and Eric Webster, we saw way too many cases of Newpath injury to conventional rice. Sometimes both rice fields belonged to the same farmer, so there was not much to do other than grin and bear it. When it happens between two neighbors who already do not like each other, I try to diagnose the problem and leave.

We have always witnessed a shift in weed problems following the introduction and use of new herbicides. Whether that is the cause or not, we certainly have seen an increase in Neally sprangletop. And, like Texas and some other Southern states, feral hogs are becoming an increasing problem in rice fields, too. The problem is compounded when landowners and/or hunters do not want rice farmers to kill or trap the hogs because they want to hunt them.

By the time we started draining verification fields, the weather started to fall apart, and things really got interesting. Rain associated with a tropical depression kept most fields wet until Gustav arrived and completely flooded large areas in northeast Louisiana. Thankfully, most of the crop in southwest Louisiana had been harvested. A few days later, Ike blew in literally blowing the seeds off the heads of some varieties and causing the remainder to lodge. By the time it was all over, we had lost an estimated $33 million.

The top three varieties planted in 2008 were CL161, Cocodrie and Cheniere with 26, 23 and 13 percent of the planted acres, respectively. A little over 47 percent of the acres were in Clearfield varieties. Hybrids made up about 15 percent of the acres – most of which were Clearfield hybrids. Slightly more than 97 percent of our acreage was planted to long-grain varieties.

We started out expecting rice acreage to total about 420,000 acres and ended up with almost 468,000 acres. Despite the early season problems, by harvest the potential for a record-breaking yield was shaping up. The hurricanes ruined those chances and left many wondering what else could happen.

Ike causes shatter & lodge problems

Rice Extension Entomologist

In 2008, 168,000 acres of rice were planted in Texas – an increase of 20 percent over 2007. If prices hold or increase, we could see more rice planted in Texas in 2009. However, several farmers/crop consultants warned me that water may be a limiting factor in 2009.

In general, 2008 was a dry year in the Texas Rice Belt, particularly during the summer months. Farmers had trouble flushing and flooding large fields in a timely manner. Water-pumping costs were very high because of high fuel costs and the additional water required during the dry season. Some Texas rice farmers are converting pumps from diesel to electric to help cope with this economic problem.

In general, main crop rice yields were good in 2008, and milling quality was excellent west of Houston. However, Mother Nature was not kind to farmers east of Houston. Tropical Storm Edouard made landfall on Aug. 5 about 40 miles west of Port Arthur, Texas. Edouard packed a pretty good punch – 40 mph sustained winds, which caused shattering and blanking of main crop rice. Then on Sept. 13, Hurricane Ike made landfall near Baytown, so rice fields east of Houston were on the “wet or bad side” of this almost category 3 hurricane – the third most destructive hurricane in U.S. history.

Compared to Edouard, Ike delivered a knockout blow. Late planted main crop and ratoon crop rice shattered and/or lodged. Some rice fields close to bayous, marshes and the Gulf were inundated by salt water due to a huge storm surge, reminiscent of Katrina and Rita, which devastated Louisiana. Some of our farmers lost storage bins and recently harvested rice. Farmers east of Houston who planted early did not suffer as much loss as those who planted later.

In general, conventional varieties did well in 2008; several farmers were very pleased with Presidio, particularly ratoon crop yields, and Cocodrie. Hybrids also responded well for some farmers – high main and ratoon crop yields. Some farmers made over 12,000 lbs/acre dry on two crops. Many Texas rice farmers are flail mowing main crop stubble to produce a better ratoon crop – higher yields and more uniformity. Due to the dry season, some farmers drained their main crop too early, which negatively affected their ratoon crop. In addition, unseasonably cool night temperatures in September, October and November slowed ratoon crop development. In fact, at the time of preparing this report, some ratoon rice was still in the field.

Lastly, the rice water weevil seed treatment Dermacor X-100 received a Section 18 in 2008 and performed very well. This product also possesses good activity against stalk borers, fall armyworm and South American rice miner. A Section 18 was recently approved for 2009. In addition, Tenchu 20SG received a Crisis Exemption in 2008 against the rice stink bug. Reports from the field were very positive – up to 10 days residual activity. We are in the process of submitting a Section 18 for this product in 2009. Thanks to Ed Gage, Pesticide Compliance Specialist with the Texas Department of Agriculture, for help with these regulatory activities.

A cool season

UCCE Rice Farming Systems Advisor

The 2008 California rice-growing season started off with a dry spring that led to early planting followed by a generally cool spring, mostly mild summer and some unseasonably cool nights in late July and early August. In general, this has been a pretty good year for rice in California. An estimated 517,000 acres of rice were planted in 2008, a slight decrease from 2007. Estimated statewide yield is currently at 8,100 pounds/acre for a total production estimate of approximately 42 million cwt.

Drought and high commodity prices had an impact on California rice production this year. As California is currently in a drought situation, some of the decreased acreage may be attributed to surface water sales and transfer to other water districts within the state. Under the conditions of these transfers, surface water may not be replaced with ground water, and the fields are generally left fallow unless a non-irrigated crop, such as safflower, can be planted to moisture. Also of interest were quite a few fields that had rice double-cropped following wheat this year. This practice was not extensive and only occurs in areas where the soil is light enough for rotational farming. The interesting aspect is that most of the fields were planted around the first of July, and we are still waiting to hear the results of these endeavors.

The dry spring this year allowed for proper ground preparation similar to 2006. However, cooler temperatures during the stand establishment and seedling development stages led to some challenges. These conditions slowed plant development and predisposed the developing rice plants to seedling diseases, which may be caused by several organisms and produce symptoms of seedling rot or seedling blight under water-seeded conditions. Many fields suffered from seedling disease damage as well as other seedling pests, which resulted in a number of fields being reseeded.

Later in the season, we experienced mostly mild temperatures during the month of July. During years with such conditions, we frequently observe an extended vegetative growth stage, delayed heading and maturity and good yields. However, several late-planted fields may have suffered yield losses due to cold-induced sterility during cool periods if plants were at a sensitive stage.

Conditions during grain ripening were cool, and strong North winds didn’t pick up until the latter part of harvest, so milling quality was fairly good during the peak harvest period. Very early planted short season varieties showed poor milling quality at the beginning of harvest, and there was a decline in later-harvested grain, following prolonged periods of dry North winds and intermittent rains.

California growers continue searching for ways to improve their bottom line as rice production costs rise. 2008 was yet another year that brought increased costs of production in the form of regulation, ground preparation, fuel, fertilizer, water and other operational costs. The challenge for our farmers is to develop innovative ways to open new markets, reduce production costs and maximize profitability. This is what will lead to a sustainable rice farming industry and allow our growers to continue farming for many years to come.

Ike wreaks havoc

Research Fellow

The 2008 Missouri rice production started out late due to wet field conditions in early April followed by cool conditions midway through the month that further delayed typical planting and growing conditions.

From that point forward, growing conditions were cooler than normal for most of the growing season with the exception of June, according to Pat Guinan, UM climatologist. Consequently, the cool weather conditions led to later-than-normal rice grain development or rice that had an extended maturing period that would not dry down as in a typical year.

We saw many varieties that were mature in the top two-thirds of the panicle, but the seed at the base of the panicle remained green longer than normal. Again, this may have been a result of the cooler temperatures during the end of the seed-filling period. Those who harvested some of these fields, versus those who waited until the panicles were completely mature, took a higher discount at the mills or had loads rejected outright. The quality was not there early in the harvest season. However, in most cases, the longer season remained warmer and, in most cases, the panicles finished maturing.

As in other states, Hurricane Ike wreaked havoc in southeast Missouri on a multitude of acres of rice in September that resulted in severely lodged rice and rice being knocked off the panicles themselves. Some varieties were impacted more than others. Those fields with lodged areas led to slower, more costly, harvest conditions and the less-than-full panicles due to shattering reduced yields even further. When Ike’s winds passed this way, I observed that varieties that were not quite ready to harvest were not as adversely affected as those that were fully mature.

Another growing-season problem that waited until harvest to rear its ugly head was that of glyphosate drift onto rice fields. It appears that this problem is more widespread than previously thought. Growers are becoming more concerned and are seeking answers to this dilemma as it impacts the yield.

When all was said and done, the producers I have talked with were pleased, though not necessarily happy, with the final yields they harvested. The information I have suggests that yields were average or slightly above average in 2008.