Rice farming’s rewards and challenges in today’s environment
By Carroll Smith
When Trey Daniel, Brandon Rodgers and Jason Smith entered Arkansas State University (ASU), the three young men joined a fraternity and enjoyed the camaraderie and support of being among a group of likeminded people. After graduation, they went home to farm and soon realized that quite a few of their fraternity brothers and other friends they went to school with also chose some field of agriculture as their occupation. Today, across southeast and central Arkansas, they all still stay in touch, sharing information and experiences in their new “agricultural fraternity.”
Tough Ground, Good Yields
Trey Daniel completed his tenth crop last year. His father Danny Daniel farmed when Trey was growing up. Today, Danny still drives a combine and is at the farm every day to offer advice. As for Trey, he worked as a crop consultant for a year before an opportunity arose for him to get into farming for himself.
“One of my customers offered to rent me 500 acres, so I went to FSA, filled out the paperwork and received a loan,” he says. “They helped me start farming, which was great. I now farm about 3,800 acres of rice, soybeans and some wheat in partnership with other family members. This year, my wife and I purchased 355 acres, which is a good start toward our long-term goal of owning 500 to 600 acres by the time we retire.
“As for my rice operation, I grow about 90 percent hybrids and the rest is Jupiter, a medium grain,” he says. “In 2012, I planted XL723, Clearfield XL729 and Clearfield XL745. I like the way the hybrids yield, and if we have to irrigate beans or get short on water, the hybrids will stay with us in the field and still produce.”
Daniel adds that the milling hasn’t been as good as the conventional varieties, but he believes that it has gotten better over the years. “I am still impressed with the hybrids,” he says. “We farm some tough ground and make from 180 to 200 bushels per acre. I’m not a rice miller, but after talking with people from different organizations, I think the hybrids need to be binned separately and milled separately, but the mills aren’t always in a position to do that. However, the industry is currently working together to help improve our milling quality. We want the U.S. rice crop to again be the most sought after rice.”
One of the main challenges that Daniel and other farmers face in the area near Stuttgart is a water shortage, which creates an irrigation issue. On the positive side, though, he says several EQIP projects have been approved, and his landowners are going to build a couple of reservoirs.
“The only way we can continue to grow rice is to utilize costshare programs that allow us to have more irrigation because we don’t have any groundwater,” he says. “That’s our insurance.”
Weed Control Challenges
After graduating from ASU, Brandon Rodgers began farming with his father Jerry at Lodge Corner, about 15 miles south of Stuttgart. After his father retired, Rodgers started farming on his own and now has a 1,500-acre operation consisting of rice, corn and soybeans.
“I’m still in the process of buying my father out,” Rodgers says. “But, we worked out a succession plan that spreads out the cost over several years instead of my having to buy the equipment all at one time.”
The young Arkansas farmer grows 100 percent hybrid rice and has been for four years.
“In 2012, I planted about 600 acres of Clearfield XL745, and the yields were really good,” Rodgers says. “It’s one of the best years I’ve ever had.
“The milling quality of the hybrids is a little lower than the conventionals I used to grow, but not low enough to justify not planting the hybrid and getting the higher yield,” he says.
In the rice production arena, Rodgers notes that one of the biggest problems he has to address involves pigweeds. “They are becoming more and more of a problem every year, especially on the levees,” Rodgers explains. “We have to use different modes of action for burndown and work at controlling pigweed in our rotational crops because we can’t kill it after we flood up the rice. As far as the levees go, we just have to hand rogue the pigweeds to get rid of them.”
Jason Smith’s farming experience has also been a family affair. His grandfather John R. Smith and his father Jerry D. Smith farmed together. When Jason graduated college, he and his brother-in-law Chris Dickson went in as equal partners with Jason’s father and his mother Carol.
Today, Jason’s parents are moving into retirement, so Jason and Chris are making most of the day-to-day decisions.
“We are farming 3,000 acres of mostly rice and soybeans along with a few hundred acres of wheat near Stuttgart,” Smith says. “2012 was our first year to grow all hybrids. We planted XL753, Clearfield XL745 and Clearfield XL729. To me, the hybrids seem easier to cut if they do go down. And, they have been good yielders for us. The quality is not quite where the conventional varieties are, but I try to make it up in bushels.”
To keep the farming operation running smoothly, he and Dickson share the responsibilities.
“Chris pretty much takes care of all the fertilizer, and I pay the bills,” Smith says. “He plants, I do the cutting, and he does the hauling. During the season, I take care of the water management on half of the farm, and he takes care of the water on the other half. Chris does all of the irrigation scheduling with our field man to keep things simple instead of confusing.”
Arkansas Ratoon Crop
Another first for Smith in 2012 was fertilizing, growing and cutting a ratoon, or second, crop of rice.
“I had a field of Clearfield XL745 that I entered in RiceTec’s Ratoon Yield Challenge,” he says. “The day before we cut the first crop on that field in August, we flew on 100 pounds of nitrogen. As soon as I got through cutting it, I flooded it up one time, then after a couple of months or so, drained it and cut it again at about 17 to 19 percent moisture.”
Smith says he had some other fields where the first crop was cut later and, although they were not fertilized before the first cutting, they did produce a second crop.
“On those fields, the moisture just kept getting higher and higher, and the crop did not have enough time to finish before the frost,” he says. “To try to ratoon crop this far north, you have to catch the weather just right.”
Although not all of Smith’s ratoon fields worked out last year, the fertilized field of Clearfield XL745 cut 67 dry bushels per acre on the ratoon crop, which put him in second place for District 7 Southeast Arkansas in the Ratoon Challenge contest. First place for District 7 went to Scott and Dean Meins who cut 76 dry bushels per acre on a field of XP4523. Each first-place winner received an ATV, and each second-place winner received a shotgun.
In today’s environment, whether you grow one crop of rice or two, rice farming, like any other type of farming, has rewards as well as challenges. With this in mind, it’s always encouraging to see young people picking up the reins of a family farm or starting a farm of their own.
Besides all graduating from ASU, joining the same fraternity and coming home to farm for a living, all three of these capable young men – Trey, Brandon and Jason – will tell you that they love their families and the farm life.
“None of us is doing this to get rich,” Daniel says. “But to us, it’s a way of life, and we thank our landlords and God for providing this opportunity. We intend to stay in it for the long haul.”
• Farms 3,800 acres of rice, soybeans and wheat near Stuttgart, Ark.
• Married to Ashley. Daughter: Tenley (14 months).
• Sends a shout-out to Scott, Robert, Jonathon, Zack, J.R. and his consultant Wayne Hill.
• Farms 1,500 acres of rice, corn and soybeans near DeWitt, Ark.
• Married to Tabatha. Sons: Cameron (5) and Cason (15 months).
• Sends a shout-out to Billy Paul and his consultant Carl Fannon.
• Farms 3,000 acres of rice, beans and wheat.
• Married to Cheryl. Daughter: Jaycie (13). Son: Jonathan (10).
• Sends a shout-out to Tony, Jeremy and his consultant Mark Maier.
Contact Carroll Smith at (901) 767-4020 or firstname.lastname@example.org.