Many rice farmers have told me that 2021 will go down as one of the most agronomically challenging seasons they ever witnessed in their careers. The simple answer is rain. It started before planting and did not consistently slow down until well after heading.
The frequent rainfall caused many early season problems. First and foremost was stand establishment. There was a very short window where the soil was dry enough to plant, which occurred during the early part of March. Most producers in south Louisiana scrambled to plant as much as they could during this brief window.
North Louisiana was not as lucky because the rain fell continuously. Many producers water planted not knowing if the rain would ever stop. The frequent rainfall continued, causing many of the newly emerged seedlings to become submerged.
We felt confident that in most situations, seedlings could survive for eight to 10 days.
Another problem with the early season rainfall was with preflood nitrogen (N) fertilization. Preflood N should be applied on dry ground, and then the field should be flooded as quickly as possible to maximize fertilizer efficiency.
In Louisiana, we saw an early and very high leaf blast incidence in several varieties. The blast pressure was so great that many producers opted to make two fungicide applications for the disease.
If you couple nitrogen fertilizer deficiencies and excessively cloudy weather during the first three to fourth months of the season, the result suggested a lower-than-normal yield. Fortunately, the rains started to slow during the beginning of harvest.
Dry conditions during harvest reduced rutted fields and aided establishment of a ratoon crop. The state average yield has not been determined, but it is expected to be about 6,900 pounds per acre, slightly lower than the record yields that we saw in 2020. Not too bad considering it was one of the most challenging seasons ever!
The ratoon crop in south Louisiana is well underway, and most of it looks good! Ratoon yields may give our overall yield a boost this year.
Slow start, big finish!
The 2021 season was met with yet another wet spring. Regular, intermittent rainfall characterized the early part of the season as it did in 2019 and 2020. Field work occurred in short bursts but did allow growers to stay on an average planting pace compared to historical progress. With the difficulties in finding planting windows along with competition from corn and soybean, rice acres were down. But they ended up higher than expected with about 1.2 million acres planted in 2021.
In early June, a tremendous rainstorm occurred across southeast and east central Arkansas, dropping as much as 20 inches of rainfall in 24 hours. Luckily, rice is more tolerant to flooding than other crops, but complete submergence for a prolonged period resulted in a loss of some rice acres.
After the storm, summer shifted to a warmer, drier condition overall. Daytime highs through July and August were what we’re more accustomed to. Humidity remained very high and with it some periods of high nighttime temperatures, which can create issues with both yield and quality.
Insect issues stood out in the 2021 season as well. Fall armyworm infestations were widespread earlier in the season and gave way to increased rice stink bug pressure later in the season. For both pests, the state needed to apply to use additional insecticides due to control issues with existing options.
One of the more notable phenomena this year was a lag in crop development created by an unseasonable cool snap around Memorial Day when several days with lows in the 50s were experienced. While the crop was technically still accumulating heat units for development, it clearly did not continue normal progress and was several days behind expectation for the remainder of the year.
In addition, high humidity and heavy dew in August and September seemed to prevent grain moistures from falling to allow harvest on an otherwise mature crop. This seemed to be partly responsible for milling yield issues for most of the crop. Drier grains on the plant experienced long periods of constant wetting and drying, which leads to fissures in the kernels responsible for increased kernel breakage in milling (more brokens equals lower head rice).
The positive side has been actual grain yields. Reports to this point suggest the potential for a record state average yield. For the past several consecutive years, the state average has hovered just below the record of 168 bushels per acre from 2013 and 2014. Widespread positive yield reports for 2021 suggest we could finally top that number. These higher grain yields will hopefully help offset some of the disappointment over milling yields and grade.
2021 California rice in the rearview
The severe drought that California is experiencing left its mark on most of the major areas discussed below.
Foremost, due to the drought and limited water supplies, rice acreage was roughly 20% below normal.
On average, California grows about 500,000 acres of rice; this year it was around 400,000. Due to the dry winter and spring, rice planting was a bit earlier, with 50% planted by May 9. Planting may have been even earlier. There were problems early in the season with water delivery, thus some fields were ready to flood but had to wait.
Water supply problems and increased groundwater use resulted in it taking longer than normal to flood a number of fields, leading to weed issues — particularly grass weeds. While weeds were a problem, pressure from other pests and diseases were low (diseases including blast and armyworm) to average (tadpole shrimp).
One exception was the rice seed midge, which was a bigger problem this year than we have previously seen. Wildfires during grain-fill did result in reduced solar radiation and unpleasant outdoor working conditions; however, we have not seen this to negatively impact rice yields. As I write this in late October, 95% of the rice has been harvested and overall the season was dry, allowing growers to cut in a timely manner.
Yields have generally been good to very good. In the yield contest we have been running for the past seven years, we are expecting to see some record yields. This is born out by anecdotal evidence from a number of growers reporting full field yields in excess of 115 hundredweight per acre.
Along this line, the new variety, M-211, has shown very high yield potential in previous years’ varietal tests and this year in farmers’ fields. Information on grain quality is not yet in, but I am guessing it is going to be on the low side for a number of reasons. They include periods of strong and warm north winds during harvest and that fields were not able to hold water as long this year, resulting in parts drying up early.
Northern California received record rainfall in late October. California rice growers rely on winter flooding to decompose rice straw, so it is not a problem for land preparation or nutrient management the following season. However, they have been told that there is going to be limited water available over the winter for straw decomposition due to limited storage in the reservoirs.
Greetings from the Bootheel
Hello from the Portageville metropolitan area and the Fisher Delta Research Center! The University of Missouri rice program has been MIA, but it’s my privilege to have taken on the role as rice Extension specialist beginning Aug. 1.
As you may have read previously, through a new partnership between the University of Missouri and the Missouri Rice Research and Merchandising Council, we hope to facilitate a breadth of applied rice research for years to come.
With early estimates approaching 250,000 acres of rice planted, the latest numbers are back down to earth and show 194,000 harvested acres. About 96% of these acres were long grain. Many growers struggled to find rice below 20% moisture for the first couple weeks of September, but levels fell rapidly with a passing cold front shortly after.
Writing this in late October, most of the rice is in the bin and fields will soon be full of ducks. Well, geese anyway.
Grain yield has been exceptional for the area as a whole. Several producers have noted this year to be one of, if not the, best rice crops of their career in terms of grain yield. The U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Agricultural Statistics Service is estimating Missouri’s average rice yield at 178 bushels per acre. If it comes to fruition, it would be a record high average yield for the state and 8 bushels per acre above the 2021 national average.
While early milling yield reports suggested that Missouri might be a little more fortunate than our neighboring states, that hope did not last long. Reports of average to even premium head rice yield have transitioned to well below average. Reasons for the subpar milling yield are often left up for interpretation.
While rice acreage was right at average for 2021 and a record yield appears likely, don’t expect that to translate into higher 2022 acreage. The only certainty in the input markets right now is that whatever you plan to do, it isn’t going to be cheap. Urea futures continuing to climb, coupled with looming availability questions, do not bode well for any acreage that’s not soybeans.
To end on a happier note, I’m beyond blessed to be serving the rice industry in a new role and would love for you to reach out to me with any comments or questions. As always, eat MO rice!