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Panicle blight

Texas rice acreage in 2010 was about 175,000 with main crop yields off 10 to 20 percent (depending on the area of rice production) compared to 2009, which was an excellent year for Texas rice yields and milling quality. Texas main crop milling quality also was less in 2010 compared to 2009, but varied geographically. Bacterial panicle blight was widespread throughout Texas this year, caused, in part, by higher-than-normal night temperatures during flowering. Also, untimely rainfall during flowering contributed to poor grain filling. These problems were largely responsible for reduced yields and milling quality.

Some Texas farmers applied minimal inputs to their ratoon crops, averaging about 1,000 lb/A. Farmers who managed their ratoon crops with more inputs produced average yields between 2,000 and 3,000 lb/A. Reports from east of Houston indicate higher-than-normal ratoon yields. In general, ratoon milling yields were good in 2010. Lower night temperatures and relatively dry conditions during ratoon crop flowering may be partially responsible for less panicle blight and better milling compared to the main crop. September and October were extremely dry in the Texas Rice Belt in 2010, which aided ratoon crop harvesting operations. Wet and cool conditions prevailed during the early planting season; thus, herbicide activity was slow, which led to more herbicide applications. Rice emergence and stands were somewhat affected by the cool weather. As far as insect pressure, grasshoppers were abundant in 2010. Many farmers sprayed for these pests. Way inspected quite a few fields for grasshoppers and damage but did not observe any fields requiring treatment.

In general, rice water weevil populations were high, but rice stink bug densities were lower than normal except for fields planted late. Stalk borer damage on the main crop was lower than in recent years but was readily apparent on the ratoon crop. Way received no complaints from farmers and crop consultants concerning the new pest management tools Dermacor X-100, CruiserMaxx and Tenchu 20SG.

Although Texas rice farmers experienced a tough year in 2010, recent price increases may help offset lower yields and milling quality. We thank Lee Bossley, Dick Ottis, Glenn Crane, Ronnie Melancon and Garry McCauley for information to prepare this summary.

Long, hot summer

Heat, unrelenting heat, day and night, are the hallmarks of the summer of 2010. Over and over I heard the same statement, “I can remember it getting this hot, but not staying this hot this long.” Last winter was a complete opposite with cold and rain that seemed like it would not end. Mother Nature has a way of averaging things out, I suppose, so we should not have been surprised.

Two fundamental processes in plants are photosynthesis and respiration. Photosynthesis allows plants to capture sunlight and use its energy to convert water and carbon dioxide in the presence of chlorophyll into glucose and oxygen. Respiration at its most basic is the oxidation of sugars to produce energy for growth and development. Of the two, respiration is influenced the most by temperature. At high temperatures, respiration increases. When respiration starts to occur to a significant degree during daylight, it is called photorespiration, which is not good. If respiration rates exceed photosynthesis rates, the plant begins to consume itself because it cannot manufacture enough sugars to supply its needs.

Research tells us that temperatures above 95 degrees have a negative effect on rice. This happens from several aspects of which only the results are visible. The very high temperatures, especially the high nighttime temperatures, resulted in excessive respiration rates; it stressed plants. We could not see it directly, but the indirect effects were obvious from flowering on to harvest.

Direct effects of the heat were on pollination and seed set. Heat affects pollen viability. When a pollen grain lands on the pistil, the part that will eventually become a grain, it must germinate and grow like a seed. The whole process is vulnerable to heat. We saw that in the number of blank grains in the panicles at harvest.

Stressed rice plants were also susceptible to disease. We saw more incidence of bacterial panicle blight, sheath rot, leaf scald and leaf smut than usual. Bacterial panicle was especially damaging in the southern part of the state. This disease thrives under high nighttime temperatures. Fungicides have no effect because it is caused by bacteria, not fungus. This all translated into disappointing yields and poor milling quality in the first crop. Lower first crop yields meant more stored carbohydrates were available for stubble regrowth, which is producing excellent second crop yields.

‘Almost’ perfect year

This past year has been dubbed the “almost perfect year” for rice production in Mississippi.

The key word is “almost.” Conditions during the planting season were excellent for planting rice. Soil moisture levels and temperatures were ideal for rice germination and stand establishment. This past year’s rice crop was planted at a record pace due to these exceptional conditions. By the end of April, approximately 75 percent of the rice crop was planted.

Weed control issues throughout the growing season were very minimal. Warm temperatures and adequate rainfall helped keep preemergence herbicides active within the soil. Postemergence herbicides also provided good weed control because weeds were not stressed by a lack of moisture or cooler temperatures.

With excellent rice stands and most of the fields free of weeds, many of us felt that we had made it through the biggest yield-limiting factors without any problems. However, the high temperatures were quietly persistent throughout the growing season, which ultimately led to the demise of the 2010 rice crop.

For some producers, harvest began around Aug. 7, which is earlier than ever in history. Most of this rice was planted at the end of March. Yield reports that were coming in were very impressive, considering the high amount of heat. As we began to harvest rice that was planted later, the effect of the high temperatures on rice yields became more apparent.

The average high for July and August was 96 (6 degrees above normal) and the average low was 74 (4 degrees above normal). There was also a string of about five days at the first of August where the daytime temperature was about 105 degrees F, and nighttime temperatures were around 79 degrees F.

These extremely high temperatures severely impacted the pollination of rice that was planted towards the end of April and the first couple weeks of May. Field yields on some of this rice came in at less than 100 bu/A (4,500 lb/A). It has been a long time since we have had field yields come in that low.

Rice milling yields were affected by the heat as well. Most of earlier planted rice milled an average of 50 to 55 percent whole kernels. That is not bad within the 2010 growing season, but most rice producers are not accustomed to these milling yields compared to previous years. As harvest progressed during the season, milling yields began to slide down further. There have been several reports of whole milling yields below 40 percent.

Needless to say, every year is different and presents a special set of challenges. This past year was no exception, but there is hope for a prosperous year in 2011.

Early rain delay

Overall, the 2010 California rice-growing season was extremely challenging from a weather standpoint. It started off with a wet, cool spring followed by a mild summer and some unseasonably cool days and nights during the early and later parts of the growing season. An estimated 566,000 acres of rice were planted in 2010 (similar to 2009). Estimated statewide yield is currently at 8,100 lbs/A (500 lbs/A decrease from 2009).

Once again, we encountered a difficult planting season. Rain persisted throughout April when groundwork is usually in full swing and planting begins. The rain wasn’t constant but spread out just enough to get growers’ hopes up before dumping another half an inch or inch of rain on the fields. These conditions led to delayed planting on the majority of California rice acres. Stand establishment, weed control and nitrogen management are particularly problematic in wet springs like the one we had.

UC Cooperative Extension recommends a preferred seeding date of April 20-May 25 and an optimum seeding date of May 1-May 10 for most California rice varieties. Much of the rice was planted in the second half of May this year. The later rice is planted, the higher the risk of cold-induced blanking and inclement weather during harvest. Delayed planting may be compensated for by warm temperatures during the growing season, but this was not the case in 2010.

To compound the issues associated with late-planted rice, temperatures were fairly mild during the months of June-August for the most part, and this stretched out the growing season even further. During years with such conditions, we frequently observe an extended vegetative growth stage, delayed heading and maturity but good yields. This was generally the case for rice planted in the first three weeks of May. However, many fields planted the last week of May and the first part of June are being harvested in November and showing signs of very poor yields due to cold-induced blanking.

The overall impression of the 2010 California rice crop is somewhat of a mixed bag. Very early and late-planted rice yields will be significantly off from average production numbers. However, rice planted during the sweet spot of May exceeded most expectations, considering the growing conditions that were present this year.

Heat, other issues

What a difference a year makes. We suffered through the extensive rainfall in 2009 only to face the drought of 2010. In Arkansas, 2010 was officially the hottest summer on record. In addition to having the hottest temperatures, many areas experienced severe drought. The overall rainfall amount may not illustrate the extent of the drought across the rice-growing areas of Arkansas, or the impact that it played on the rice crop. It was certainly responsible (at least in part) for many of the problems we observed. I am aware of more failures than I have seen in the past 20 years.

However, I don’t believe the heat was solely responsible for low yields. In every case I investigated, I was able to find a factor present that resulted in reduced yields (bacterial panicle blight, water management, blast, etc.). However, the effects of these issues on the rice crop was often enhanced by the heat. State average yields were 142 bu/A (6,400 lbs/acre), representing the lowest yields we have had since 2001 and 400 lbs/A less than 2009.

Arkansas rice farmers planted a record rice crop with acreage approaching 1.8 million acres. The harvested rice acreage of 1.785 million acres exceeded the previous record established in 2005 by 150,000 acres. This is critical to the problems observed in 2010. More rice acres putting pressure on irrigation capacity coupled with arguably the worst drought since 1980 resulted in rice that was not irrigated efficiently enough to ensure the best yields.

We saw near normal yields for early planted rice but much more variable and less common “good yields” afterwards. Heat combined with the drought put unexpected pressure on our irrigation capacity. I observed several fields across Arkansas that were never completely flooded, and some areas where severe drought stress impacted rice yields even before mid-season. The heat also enhanced development of bacterial panicle blight – unpredictable, uncontrollable and devastating in many fields across the state.

However, what is a problem this year is probably not going to be the problem next year. We have to make the best decisions we can with as much information as possible. It is my goal over the next couple of months to provide that information.

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