Saturday, February 4, 2023

High input costs, weather extremes challenged rice growers in 2022

⋅ BY FRED MILLER ⋅
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Jarrod Hardke has a word for the 2022 rice season — erratic.

Rice Harvest
Erratic weather that featured heavy early rain and a hard summer drought set the tone for Arkansas’ rice production in 2022. (U of A System Division of Agriculture photo by Fred Miller)

“The year began with dramatically higher input costs, especially for fertilizer and diesel fuel,” said Hardke, extension rice agronomist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

Rice prices began to rise around planting time, Hardke said, holding out hope that farmers might recoup their input costs in the end. But 2022 was the fourth or fifth wet spring in a row, and that delayed field preparation and planting, making those projected prices shaky.

“The rains stabilized a bit around May,” he said. “And then in June, it was like someone threw a switch, the rain stopped, and temperatures got up in the 90s. It got hot and dry, and everything just dried up really fast.”

The dry weather in June, when it was time to fertilize and flood rice, put a lot of strain on irrigation systems.

“Rice is very hardy in the face of extremes,” Hardke said. “So, in June, the rice was growing so fast it was soaking up all the water. A lot of growers were late getting nitrogen incorporated into the soil, and it took much longer to put a flood on the rice. Fields that might take three to four days to flood were taking 10 or 14 days.”

Irrigation pumps were running non-stop, Hardke said. “Growers experienced a lot of problems with wells going down because they were running so hard. And then, they had issues with replacing parts because of supply chain shortages.

“These problems just nagged us all season,” Hardke said. “But rice is resilient, and when it needs help, it will kind of wait on you, so there was a bit of an escape for us. But it will only wait for so long.”

Average yields are down from last year’s record average, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service estimate, Hardke said. “Average yield is estimated at 165 bushels per acre, down from almost 170 bushels an acre in 2021.”

While the average yield is lower this year, Hardke said — and he expects it to be a little lower when the final data is in — it’s not far off the previous years of 2017-2020.

Hardke said milling yields were average for the year. “That’s better than last year when we had record rough rice yields, but milling yield was low,” he said. “That’s not a big gain for farmers, but it helps to get a little of that value back from a lower yield.”

Hardke said the NASS yield estimate doesn’t paint a complete picture of this year’s rice crop.

“The story is in the variability of success from field to field,” he said. “Yields were erratic because of the weather extremes and other problems growers faced in 2022.”

Dry weather kept disease pressure low, Hardke said. But late rains in some areas in August revived disease problems in those fields until hot, dry weather returned. On the other hand, the dry weather during harvest was a bonus.

“This year was the smoothest, driest harvest anyone could remember,” Hardke said.

The extended dry weather also allowed many growers to prepare fields for next year, work that usually has to wait for a dry window between August and April. And those windows of opportunity have been few in recent years.

“The speed that farmers were able to move through their fields meant that a ton of fall field work got done, especially in northeast Arkansas,” Hardke said. “A lot of fields are basically ready to plant next year.”

Research highlights

The Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, the Division of Agriculture’s research arm, released four new rice varieties in 2022.

CLL18 is a high-yielding Clearfield variety that will be available to growers in 2023 through Horizon Ag. It averaged 221 bushels per acre over two years in the 2020-21 Arkansas Rice Variety Advancement Trials conducted by the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

“This was the highest yielding nonhybrid Clearfield® rice in the ARVAT for those two years,” said Karen Moldenhauer, professor emeritus and rice breeder for the experiment station. “It has looked very good in all of the tests it has been in.

“CLL18 is an excellent long-grain Clearfield® line derived from the cross of Roy J and CL142-AR, made at the Rice Research and Extension Center at Stuttgart in 2011,” Moldenhauer said.

Two new conventional rice varieties, Taurus and Ozark, also debuted in 2022.

Taurus, a new medium-grain rice, could even be a gamechanger in the coming years for medium-grain rice growers in the South, according to Hardke.

Taurus offered an average yield potential of 232 bushels per acre in the 2021 Arkansas Rice Variety Advancement Trials.

“Based on ARVAT data, Taurus has a significant yield advantage over all current medium-grain varieties in all test locations,” said Xueyan Sha, senior rice breeder for the experiment station.

Sha said Taurus was bred for Midsouth conditions and would be adaptable to wherever Jupiter or Titan are grown. Taurus is a cross between four other conventional varieties and has a more plump kernel than Jupiter. It outshined even the latest medium-grain varieties, Lynx and Titan, in the 2021 trials at six locations. Taurus brought in the highest average yield in a Clay County field with 249 bushels per acre.

Ozark, a new conventional long-grain variety, is a cross of Diamond and LaKast.

“Diamond has shown some issues the last two years,” Sha said. “It seems it has not been as consistent on yield potential, so this one we hope can be used as a replacement for Diamond. It’s definitely shown a yield advantage in the ARVAT.”

Ozark offered an average of 218 bushels per acre in the 2021 ARVAT conducted at six locations in Arkansas. Sha said the overall yield advantage of Ozark over Diamond is about 5 percent.

Ozark is agronomically similar to Diamond, with a plant height of 43 inches. Maturity for Ozark is a day or two earlier than Diamond at 88 days to 50 percent heading, Sha said. Lodging tolerance is also similar to Diamond’s, with a slight improvement in milling, especially head rice yield.

The experiment station released a new jasmine-type aromatic rice called ARoma 22 amid rising U.S. demand for aromatic rice. Emeritus Professor Karen Moldenhauer and assistant breeder Debra Ahrent Wisdom developed it to fill that demand with an improved Arkansas-adapted variety.

ARoma 22 offers superior aromatics and color consistency over earlier releases, and equals several qualities looked for by consumers of imported Asian aromatic rice, sensory tests show.

ARoma 22 averaged 167 bushels per acre with high milling yields in five Arkansas Rice Variety Advancement Trials. ARoma 22 reaches 50 percent heading at 88 days with “excellent” straw strength, according to data collected from the Arkansas Uniform Rice Regional Nursery and reported in 2020 research trials.

Other Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station rice research developments this year included:

  • Chris Henry, professor and water management engineer, found that tailwater recovery systems show significant savings in row rice. He developed a recirculated irrigation system that makes row rice competitive with zero-grade flooded fields in water conservation and yield potential.
  • Related research by Kris Brye, University Professor of applied soil physics and pedology, indicated that improved water management could help decrease greenhouse gas emissions in rice fields.
  • Griffiths Atungulu, associate professor of grain processing and post-harvest system engineering and director of the Rice Processing Program, developed on-farm drying guidelines that maximize quality and reduce energy use. Program researchers based the guidelines on nearly a decade of data compiled from the program’s research.
  • Nilda Burgos, professor of weed physiology and molecular biology, co-authored a research paper that describes two genetic pathways to herbicide resistance in weedy rice. The researchers confirmed that herbicide resistance transfers from crop rice to weedy rice.

Fred Miller is a project/program specialist with University of Arkansas Communication Services. He may be reached at fmiller@uark.edu.

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