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Heart Belongs To The Land

Arkansas farmer strives to grow good quality seed rice

By Carroll Smith
Editor
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Mark Wimpy, who farms just south of Jonesboro, Ark., raised his first seed rice in the mid-1980s. Today, he is still a seed rice producer for Cache River Valley Seed, LLC and considers raising quality seed as his greatest achievement as a farmer.

In 2011, Wimpy was selected as the Rice Farmer of the Year, based on several sets of criteria. At that time, Rice Farming learned that efficiency, environmental protection and conservation are his ultimate goals. At the same time, the Arkansas farmer strives to maintain the integrity of the land, conserving the resources available for generations to come.

“We have a family partnership, and everybody has a role,” Wimpy says. “My wife, Belinda, is my go-to person, who does whatever needs doing on the farm in the way of keeping up with the books, all of the receipts and the decision-making process. Without her, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do.

“Both of my daughters, Haley and Hannah, help with the bookkeeping and bill paying, and my son-in-law, Tim Fitzgerald, Haley’s husband, is a stock broker with Stephens, Inc. He does quite a bit of the fieldwork on the farm when we need him to, and he is also in charge of watching the markets.”

Wimpy says they all meet at least once a month and sometimes weekly during the busy season when there is a lot going on.

“I value everybody’s input,” he says. “Everyone helps make the management decisions.”

Variety Selection

Before the new growing season begins, Wimpy researches all of the commercial varieties, puts his head together with his seed dealer and tries to come up with the best seed roster to maximize yield and quality in each field.

“Some varieties seem to do better on particular fields even though soil types, fertility programs and everything else are fairly consistent across the farm,” he says. “We are in a rotation with rice, soybeans and corn, so we’ll refer to prior rice yield maps to identify any problems that may have been related to the variety that was planted in a certain field. If so, we can make a change before the next season begins.” In 2012, Wimpy planted CL151, CL152, CL111 and CL261. He also planted two conventional non- Clearfield varieties: Roy J, which is a long-grain and Jupiter, which is a medium grain. “We like to rotate the Clearfield and non-Clearfield varieties to help preserve the Clearfield technology, which is so good,” Wimpy says. “We don’t want to get into a resistance situation.”

Zero Red Rice Policy

As a seed rice producer, Wimpy takes great pride in keeping the farm as clean as possible.

“We have a zero red rice policy on this farm and have had one for 20 years,” he says. “We never let red rice go to seed. We have a roguing crew that has been with us for more than 15 years. They are familiar with all of the fields and where the hot spots might be, and they do an excellent job.”

Wimpy’s crop consultant, Lance Ramthun, helps with variety selection, keeps up with the latest technology and stays on top of the herbicide weed control programs, making sure that the fields are kept clean, depending on which weeds or grasses are present in each field.

“I would hate to try to make a crop without him,” Wimpy says. “He is a viable part of this operation.”

The Arkansas farmer also brought corn into his rotation scheme for the first time in 2012. By adding another crop, Wimpy believes it will help deter herbicide resistance and also contribute in a positive way to the soil profile.

Technology And Networking

In addition to variety selection and production practices, Wimpy takes advantage of mobile devices in the field to increase efficiency.

“I have a smartphone, and I keep a laptop computer with me while in the field to keep up with my records and documentation,” he says. “Also, Lance and I share the same computer program so when he scouts my fields, he can email his recommendations directly to me. We’ve pretty much done away with paper. Everything goes on the laptop now.”

Wimpy also believes it is helpful to exchange ideas with farmers in other rice-growing areas.

“I attended the USA Rice Outlook Conference for the first time in 2011 and then again in 2012,” he says. “I have met so many rice farmers at this meeting and have enjoyed sharing ideas with them about how they do things and how we do things. It has really opened my eyes. I think we can all benefit by making these types of contacts at this meeting. There are some wonderful people associated with rice production.”

Producing Quality And Quantity

In looking back at last year’s season, Wimpy says the operation had its highest average rice yield since he has been farming.

“We had an excellent crop,” he says. “We were able to plant in a timely fashion, keep the crop irrigated properly and maintain good weed control. We also had an early harvest, and none of the rice lodged, which is somewhat unusual for us. Overall, I would say that 2012 was a very good year.” Although his rice yielded well, Wimpy says the industry needs to think about rice quality, too.

“We’ve got to start producing better quality rice, and variety selection is one piece of the puzzle,” he says. “I think it would help if we can get a little more vigor and toughness back into our varieties to withstand the extreme heat and the hot nights that we are having.

“Although we have had some weather situations that we can’t control, we still need to change our philosophy back to a mix between growing rice for quality and quantity,” Wimpy adds.

“As U.S. rice farmers, we should be able to produce a product that everyone wants to buy again.”

Contact Carroll Smith at (901) 767-4020 or csmith@onegrower.com.

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