Thursday, June 20, 2024

Wingmead Farms grows the future

Seed rice farmer shares strategy for success.

⋅ By Carroll Smith ⋅

Farm manager Darren Walker is committed to growing a quality product in a sustainable fashion in Prairie County, Arkansas.

Wingmead is a large farm where rice, soybeans and corn are grown in Prairie County, Arkansas. It’s also a seed rice operation that prides itself on clean fields and quality production.

Farm manager Darren Walker, who was born and raised here, worked on the farm as a teenager, went to college, came back to Wingmead as a consultant for 2 ½ years and then moved into a managerial role. He is a sharp-minded strategist whose goal is to keep the business successful.

“We try to grow all of our rice as seed rice and use Clearfield varieties as a tool to clean up the ground for the seed rice,” he said. “We grow, process and sell the university varieties. In 2021, we grew Diamond, Jewel and some Cheniere — an older, long-grain rice that was requested. This year, we will grow Diamond, Cheniere and Ozark — a long-grain variety with improved yield potential over Diamond — depending on its availability. 

“We like to keep our fields clean, so we rotate with Clearfield varieties to make sure the ground is red rice free or as close to zero as possible. In 2019, we grew CLL15 for the first time and had excellent results. It went in around April 20 and was our last planted cultivar that year. We dried out at 195 bu/ac across 140 acres. In 2020 and 2021, we planted CLL16, and it was our top-yielding variety both years — 202 dry average. This year, we will plant CLL16, CLL15, CLHAO2 — a high amylose variety — and PVL03 to see how it does.”

CLL16 is gaining a reputation for its vigor, resiliency, yield and quality.

Outstanding resiliency

Walker said he likes CLL16’s resiliency and vigor. He described a particular field that had a place his dad referred to as a “buffalo wallow” — a low spot that is slow to drain. He said they really struggled to get a stand of rice there. 

“In 2021, we planted CLL16 and had a gorgeous stand of rice across the whole field,” he said. “The vigor in CLL16 is amazing. It even pushed through the buffalo wallow. Then last June, just as we established permanent flood, we got about 11 inches of rain in 48 hours. I had a field of CLL16 that went under water and stayed submerged for two to three days. At first, I thought that was going to kill the rice, but it didn’t. Then I thought it would lay down, but it didn’t. When the water receded, the rice was alive and didn’t look too worse for the wear.”

However, now Walker had another problem. The excessive rain destroyed the levees, which they had to repair with a small track hoe. They lost the water and were delayed in getting the flood back on. By the time the levees were back up, the rice was stressed from being too dry. 

“I thought if the initial water stress didn’t get it, the lack of water might,” Walker said. “In this field of CLL16, there was a maturity difference in the bottom levee and maybe half of the next. Although it headed a little later, the joint moved a little later and it matured later, we saw no shortheads and no blanks. When we cut it with a yield monitor at harvest, there was no difference in yield.

“I can’t drive home enough the resiliency of CLL16, and it also has good quality. Horizon Ag has never sacrificed quality, and now they have products with a low-end input position, quantity and quality.”

Agronomic considerations

On March 25, Darren Walker checks one of his fields to determine when it will be ready to plant.

Regarding seeding rate, Walker plans to thin it down a bit this year.  

“I believe with the stooling capability of CLL15, I can get the seeding rate down to 55 lbs/ac and be good,” he said. “I’ve been planting CLL16 at 65 lbs/ac, but I’m going to try 60 pounds this year. That’s also where we are on Diamond and Titan. We’ll drill 60 pounds and seed the levees as needed. We up the medium grains to the 70-pound range because there are fewer seeds in a pound of medium grain.”

Walker describes himself as a “seed treatment guy.” He applies CruiserMaxx and a full rate of gibberellic acid.

“I want the rice to come out growing and not have to worry about grape colaspis or water weevil larvae,” he said. “I believe you are better off planting 60 pounds treated than planting extra seed and not treating it. We blanket treat with fungicide at early to mid-boot with a shot of Quadris and propiconazole to knock back the smut and sheath blight.”

In his weed control program, the Arkansas farmer likes to include pre-emergence herbicides.

“I grow both Clearfield and non-Clearfield varieties,” he said. “The cleanest fields I have are the Clearfield fields. I like to run Newpath and glyphosate and come back with Clearpath, Permit and 2,4-D at midseason. That’s it, and the field is clean.”

Marketing and risk mitigation

High commodity prices have stimulated a lot of conversation and theories about marketing this year. 

Walker said it reminds him of a couple things he heard in one of his college marketing classes. First, your goal price should be where you make a decent profit although it may not be the top of the market. Secondly, the professor said bears make money, bulls make money and hogs get slaughtered. Bears play the downside of the market, and bulls play the upside of the market. Hogs are greedy. They try to play the upside and downside of the market, and they get slaughtered.

“The highest price is always the most unattainable price because when we get there, nobody thinks that’s it,” Walker says. “We’re looking for that extra dime, extra quarter, extra 50 cents. My marketing strategy is to consider the upside potential that is left and the downside potential if the market turns.

“For example, we’re looking at $16 soybeans. Let’s say beans may go to $18. So that’s a $2 upside potential. But I have sold $7 beans, so that’s a $9 downside potential. Do I want to chase $2 and risk a $9 fall? Risk versus reward says sell the beans. I will sell what I think we can realistically produce for $16. I know I am going to make a good profit and have been blessed to get this price. I say sell them and don’t look back.

“For rice, I tie this back to yield and use CLL16 as an example. What if I show you a variety with a low entry level cost and good vigor and resiliency that you can plant from March 15 to May 15. It is going to yield, not go down and is resistant to blast. Would you plant it? I would. I think it’s a good option this year to take care of you. That’s sustainability on several levels.

“Arkansas is the largest rice producing state, so I think it’s important for us to grow a good quality product — something we can hang our hat on.”

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