As I drove home last summer after photographing sweet rice harvest in Northern California, I was itching so badly I could hardly sit still. But my discomfort also brought back a story a Des Arc, Ark., producer told me years ago about harvest when he was growing up.
His father had an open-cab combine and as a kid, the producer would ride along. During the first week or so, he said he’d itch so badly he could hardly stand it. But as harvest progressed, he eventually got used to it.
Nowadays combines not only have cabs but cabs with air conditioning, DVD players, GPS, ergonomic seats, plug-ins for small refrigerators, and comfy buddy seats so riders don’t have to sit on the floor or on hard plastic Igloo cooler adjacent to the driver.
The same can be said about Rice Farming magazine as this year we celebrate five decades of publishing. Born in Memphis, Tenn., the publication was the brain child of Walter Little, who also founded our sister magazine, Cotton Farming. Much like farming, publishing also has progressed by leaps and bounds.
No longer is the magazine typeset using hot lead slugs. Everything is now done on computers, and news updates are quickly posted to www.ricefarming.com, put on Rice Farming’s Facebook page or tweeted via Twitter (@ricefarming).
As I look back through the first few issues of Rice Farming, I shake my head in wonderment about the varieties producers planted 50 years ago – names such as Nato, the most widely grown medium-grain in 1967; Bluebonnet 50, the most widely grown long-grain in Arkansas; and Caloro, the most widely grown short-grain in the United States.
Rice Farmer of the Year state finalists harvested 93-98 bushels per acre dry in Arkansas and 24-25 barrels (92.5-96.5 bushels dry) per acre in Louisiana that year.
Compare that to the winner of the 2015 University of California yield contest, Richter AG, which produced 126.9 hundredweights per acre (282 bushels per acre) dry. Or take a look at the yield potential of RiceTec,’s hybrids, some of which top 230 bushels during a good year.
In those same issues from 1967 and 1968, articles mentioned cabs for combines were just beginning to make inroads although many of the advertisements still showed open-cab models.
Technology also has infiltrated into agriculture, and during the past decade or so, the speed of adoption has hit overdrive. GPS is now common, whether for guiding tractors and planting straight rows or making cuts and fills during land leveling. Remote monitoring of grain bin drying is gaining popularity, and drones have just entered the picture.
I could go on about being in the middle of a technological revolution that is likely to speed up as the years progress. Much as I wished I had a crystal ball to predict the next 50 years, I don’t. But I do know we’re in for a fast-paced ride.
So buckle up and hold onto your hats.