The Arkansas rice planting season in 2017 went at a near-record pace, lagging behind only 2012. Planted acres were expected to be 25 percent less than in 2016. The positive early season conditions had growers feeling upbeat about the year to come. However, some were wisely concerned about having it all planted at once waiting on “one bad weather event.”
Well, they were right about that as massive amounts of rainfall flooded hundreds of thousands of crop acres in northern Arkansas around May 1. Early predictions were that the state could lose close to 200,000 acres of rice as a result of the flooding.
Over the next several weeks, conditions were extremely favorable as additional rainfall failed to materialize, allowing fields to emerge from flooding faster than expected. Cooler-than-normal temperatures also helped to increase rice survival in fields submerged for weeks. The subsequent number of lost acreage was finally estimated at only about 100,000 acres.
Aside from one week in July where temperatures began to soar, overall daytime and nighttime temperatures remained mild and rainfall was frequent. However, the number of levees lost due to flooding and difficulties with nitrogen fertilization and weed management did not create an overly positive attitude toward the crop outcome. It was expected to be an improvement on the extremely disappointing results of 2016, but how much better?
As it turned out, the low temperatures and adequate rainfall combined with low disease pressure were just what the doctor ordered. Temperatures were reminiscent of 2013-2014, and it turns out a great many of the yield results would mirror those years as well. This is important because those two seasons hold the state average yield record for Arkansas at 168 bushels per acre.
The state average yield estimate, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is 163 bushels per acre for 2017 on approximately 1.1 million acres. However, all signs point to the state average yield increasing with additional surveys as the yield reports this year have been overwhelmingly positive.
A final state average yield that challenges the records set in 2013-2014 would not be surprising. Milling yields and overall grain quality were also much improved over 2016, creating a positive attitude as harvest concludes for 2017. Arkansas rice growers will feel considerably better this winter than last and may actually look forward to the 2018 season.
Crazy weather caused planting delays, lodged rice
The 2017 cropping season has been a crazy one. Although 2017 started out promising with record rainfall during the winter, the rains persisted into the spring, delaying seedbed preparation and planting. Many growers had to take shortcuts to get their fields planted in a timely manner. These shortcuts included doing field operations when soil was wetter than optimal, skipping some operations and planting shorter-season varieties.
Planting was typically delayed by one to two weeks relative to a more typical year. In addition, late rains prevented a lot of acreage from getting planted so acreage was down and estimated to be 462,000 acres — much lower than the 520,000-550,000 acres in a typical year.
After lingering rains came a hotter-than-average summer. Late planting and warm weather appears to have shortened the time from planting to harvest by about a week. In addition, armyworms were a problem for the second year in a row, and there were higher-than-normal incidences of stem rot.
At time of writing, harvest is about 50 percent complete. In general, there is a lot of lodged rice and many are reporting that rice yields are down about 10 percent.
Mild weather aids grain fill, yields
Acreage reductions were the norm for most of the Mid-South rice growing region in 2017, a trend that Mississippi did not escape. After rebounding in 2016 to 196,000 acres, ending rice acreage in Mississippi during 2017 was 114,500 acres — estimated to be the lowest since 1977, when it hit 111,000 acres.
Once again, Bolivar County led with the most acreage dedicated to rice in the state, with Tunica County coming in second. This year, there was only a 145-acre difference between Bolivar and Tunica counties. Again in 2017, most of the rice acreage was cultivated north of Highway 82, with rice seeded in about 16 of the 19 Delta counties. Planting progressed at a blistering pace, with 80 percent of the state’s crop sown in April.
This planting pace exceeded the three-, five- and 10-year historical average, resulting in most areas of the state being planted on time. The first three weeks of May were met with rain and resulted in the remainder of the rice crop sown between the last week of May and second week of June.
The consistent rain received over the Delta area of Mississippi during early May hampered levee construction on much of the early planted rice, and in some cases, levees were not able to be pulled and the fields were converted to row rice. The continual wet weather delayed nitrogen fertilization on the earliest planted fields but aided in allowing residual herbicides to remain active.
In general, insect and disease pressures were average to below average during most of the year, with the exception of rice water weevil. In many areas, rice water weevil numbers were great and yield limiting. Jeff Gore, Mississippi State
University entomologist, showed water weevil numbers at levels ranging from five to 30 per soil core, with the bulk of samples hovering around 15 to 20 during 2017. MSU data suggest one weevil per core could reduce yield by 1 bushel per acre.
One of the greatest attributes of the 2017 growing season was the mild temperatures observed throughout the Mid-South during the traditional “dog days of summer.” Our rice field day was held on Aug. 2, and temperatures never peaked above 90 degrees.
During the time frame when most of the rice was flowering, daytime temperatures hovered around 90 degrees with nighttime temperatures less than 72 degrees. These lower-than-normal temperatures resulted in excellent pollination and grain fill for most of Mississippi’s rice crop. State average yields are expected to be greater in 2017 than in previous years and should carry over excitement for increased rice acres in Mississippi in 2018.