Rice farming in the Gulf Coast

Finding balance between technology and profit.

⋅ BY CASSIDY NEMEC ⋅
EDITOR

Tony Driver (from left), Scott Strnadel, Dillon Berglund, and Daniel Berglund stand in front of one of their Wharton County rice fields. The Berglunds farm as fourth- and fifth-generation growers in the Wharton and Matagorda counties of the Texas Gulf Coast.

Daniel and Dillon Berglund stem from a long line of agriculturalists. This father-son duo has roots in the Wharton and Matagorda counties of the Texas Gulf Coast, and they farm as fourth-and-fifth-generation growers.

A Texas A&M graduate, Daniel planted his first rice crop in 1987. His son, Dillon, started in 2010 and has since precision-leveled all his land. Over the years, the Berglunds acquired farms and operate around 2,000 acres of rice for commercial and seed production. They grow a ratoon crop on their commercial rice acres.

Last year, all rice was watered conventionally with levees and polypipe. They commented they have grown row rice before, in addition to alternate wetting and drying, noting they will do it again. 

Varieties and pest management

Last year, the Berglunds grew conventional and specialty varieties, along with RiceTec varieties for their seed rice production. In strengthening their versatility this year, they are continuing to raise RiceTec seed rice as well as  their conventional and specialty varieties alongside their other crops for the 2023 season. 

The Berglunds said their main weed issues include waterhemp, grasses, and sprangletop. As far as herbicides go, they make use of RoundUp and Sharpen for burn down and Command and Sharpen as a preemergence. They will come back with additional applications as needed with products like Regiment, Facet L, Prowl, and/or Permit Plus.

Daniel said grass control posed more of an issue last year. “I think it was a combination of the heat and how the grass took up the herbicides. It also might have had something to do with water depth. We did our best to maintain an adequate flood, but with excessive heat and low humidity, there were times when it was difficult to keep it up and the grass can get ahead of you,” he said.

Stinkbugs seem to be their main insect problem. These bugs go so far as to affect the color and quality of the rice. The Berglunds said they are still working to manage this pest. They are also not immune to disease in their rice. Sheath blight and kernel smut have been and are issues in this Texas rice. Daniel said fungicides like Amistar Top are very effective on the sheath blight but that smut, which they will use Tilt to manage early, did appear this past year later in the season due to late rains on late-season rice. “It didn’t rain until the end of July, and then we got quite a bit of rainfall between then and harvest, so we had those issues with smut.”

Method of operation

The Berglands said they are blessed with good employees and reliable truck drivers. They make use of yield mapping, soil sampling, and variable-rate fertilizer applications. They have a 120-foot boom, GPS-operated sprayer with a pulse system that has tip-by-tip cut-off every 19 inches that helps with drift control and precision. Daniel said they try to keep up with technology advancement without breaking the bank and manage based on expectations.

Daniel said their operation is dependent on weather in the Gulf Coast. Dillon added that they make decisions, too, based on return on investment and profitability before reiterating the role weather plays. “Farm for the ground, farm for the weather, don’t farm for the homerun.”

Dillon also mentioned the importance of having a good relationship and level of communication with the landowner. Daniel concurred and said they rely on their landowner relationships, need to understand land ownership changes, and must learn to accept the effects of these changes on their operation.

Daniel said they try to keep up with technology advancement without breaking the bank. They manage based on expectations, he said.

The Berglunds said their agronomist Scott Strnadel plays a large role in their operation. Strnadel said he utilizes the AgriEdge technology platform from Syngenta and reaps benefits from the satellite imagery component.

He also contributed to the land discussion by adding land contracts can be difficult to get as most are year-to-year and many need about three to five years to feel comfortable making major investments of capital and labor for crops.

However, the Berglunds’ biggest fear is the influx of solar panels. There are transmission lines all around, and the level ground in Wharton and Matagorda counties is attractive and suited for their construction, they said.

Looking forward to 2023 rice

Daniel said last year’s seed rice production went well and was productive. Their commercial rice was on the late side, so yields, quality, and weight were off due to excessive Texas heat during pollination and excessive rain during maturity. He noted water use was up last year because of that dry weather, which went along with the exceptionally high fuel costs. “It was a very bad combination. Instead of linear, it was exponential, but that’s part of the business.”

Daniel said they are still trying to mitigate cost of production as a whole. “Our costs of production are still way high. Fertilizer has come down some from last year but is still higher than it was two years ago. Between that and fuel costs, we’re also trying to keep our labor and costs down in general. It’s always an issue, but it’s even more so when you can’t control some of them.”

He said they are going to be keeping an eye on their soil samples and making sure they stay timely with their herbicide applications. In addition, Daniel mentioned they are looking into purchasing a drone to get the trouble spots in a more timely manner.

“With margins being thin, it’s more important than ever to make every acre count.”

Daniel said he is looking forward to when export markets come back. “We need to be more competitive in the world market. It is more of an issue when other countries are subsidizing beyond their World Trade Organization agreements,” he said. 

Both Daniel and Dillon said they enjoy the opportunity to farm rice, with Daniel emphasizing his fondness of working with his son and Dillon giving his take on being the next generation.

“I enjoy being out here. It’s good to be able to keep it going,” Dillon said.

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