Let’s breathe a collective sigh of relief that the trying 2015 season is over

ss-hardkeDr. Jarrod T. Hardke
Arkansas
Rice Extension Agronomist
University of Arkansas, Cooperative Extension Service
jradke@uaex.edu

If I had told growers in January that they should plant their rice in May to achieve the best yields and that mid-April would be terrible, I’d have been laughed out of every room. But I would’ve been right. Against long-term trends that

say “the earlier we plant rice, the higher the yields,” rice yields actually improved the later we planted.

Early April rice was down about 10 percent from 2014, and then it got worse. Growers saw mid-April planted rice yields bottom out. Once we hit the last few days of April into May, yields improved, in some cases dramatically.

Some blamed yield woes on issues with nitrogen (N) applications. While we did once again have difficulty getting preflood N applied to dry ground, this wasn’t our main problem, but it didn’t help. With a low commodity price driving producers to limit inputs, additional issues were created by reductions in seeding rates, seed treatments, fertilizers and herbicide applications.

Ultimately the planting date appeared to be the single greatest yield-limiting factor for 2015. Planting date effects on yield are well known, but 2015 didn’t fit any previous mold. In the majority of fields, there were few blanks, and heads were generally short with relatively few panicle branches and grain positions.

This suggests the problems weren’t during heading but instead during grain formation back at midseason in June when conditions were cloudy, rainy and overcast with strange cold snaps mixed in.

On a positive note, disease pressure was fairly light. Blast reports arrived early but tapered off as conditions turned hot and dry. The change in conditions was also well timed to keep sheath blight low in the canopy and help avoid sprays to manage that disease.

Rice stink bug numbers continued the slight downturn observed in 2014, and one treatment was sufficient in most cases. A complaint during harvest was reports of “pecky” rice resulting in lower grades.

Knowing that stink bug numbers were relatively low and that the fields in question had been scouted and sprayed, more investigation was needed.

As it turns out, a number of fields in the north did have damaged rice, but it was not likely due to stink bugs but rather the sum total of stink bugs, disease and wet weather that caused the damage in question.

In early spring, Arkansas was predicted to flirt with record rice acreage on the back of favorable prices compared to alternatives. The steady decline of rice prices combined with planting delays prevented that from becoming a reality.

Once the season began (or tried to), cold weather and regular rainfall prevented much early progress except in isolated areas of central and southern Arkansas. Unfortunately, this continued through most of April, and a large percentage of the state’s rice was planted in a 14-day window around the last week of April and the first week of May.

When the dust settled, Arkansas growers still planted almost 1.3 million acres, with an additional 300,000 acres listed as prevented planting. The current state average yield forecast for Arkansas in 2015 is 164 bushels per acre compared to the record of 168 bushels per acre in 2013 and 2014. The more likely outcome is an average yield between 155-160 bushels per acre.

That would represent a 5 to 7 percent decline in average yield compared to 2014. Not exactly the hand we were hoping to be dealt in 2015, and most are just relieved that this one is over.

Dr. Dustin Harrell
Louisiana
Extension Rice Specialst

dharrell@agcenter.lsu.edu

2015 may go down as one of the most challenging seasons ever in Louisiana. Many farmers will tell you that when it comes to farming, every year is unique.

We can all recall memorable cropping years in the past. In 2013 and 2014, we were blessed with favorable weather, low incidence of diseases, and as a result we had excellent yields. 2012 can be remembered as the year blast was so devastating to us here in Louisiana.

So what will the 2015 season be remembered for? When I asked that of many farmers, they told me that this year will go down as one of the most agronomically challenging seasons they ever witnessed in their careers. That is really saying something when many of them that I spoke to had been farming for 30-plus years!

Why was it so challenging? The simple answer is rain. Rainfall started prior to planting and did not consistently slow down until well after midseason. At the Rice Research Station, for example, the average rainfall during the entire rice season (from March 1-Aug. 31) is about 26 inches. This year during just the first three months of the rice-growing season (March 1-June 1), we received 26 inches.

LASpecialistSpeakDec15

Although Louisiana growers had good weather during harvest and for the ratoon crop, they blame a wet spring for lower firstcrop yields.

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 last full week in March. Most producers in south Louisiana scrambled to plant as much as they could during this brief window.

Then the frequent rainfall started soon afterward, causing many of the newly emerged seedlings to become submerged. One of the frequent calls I received was, “How long can seedling rice stay submerged before dying?”

Obviously, there is not a one-size-fits-all answer, but we felt confident that in most situations seedlings could survive for eight to 10 days. In many cases, rice had germinated but not emerged when the rains started again, and the result was a lot of less-than-adequate stands, which had to be replanted.

Another problem with the early season rainfall was with pre- flood nitrogen (N) fertilization. Pre-flood N fertilizer always should be applied on dry ground, and then the field flooded as quickly as possible to maximize fertilizer efficiency. This means that most of the time if the ground is wet, it is best to wait a few days for it to dry before applying pre-flood N. However, the ground never dried in 2015. The final result was that a lot of N fertilizer was applied on wet or muddy ground.

Another somewhat unique question frequently asked in 2015 was, “How long is too long to wait before applying pre-flood N?” That is another question that does not have definitive answer at this point and probably deserves more research.

What we do know is that rice begins to take up N rapidly once vegetative growth begins. We also know that the best time to apply any fertilizer to a crop is just before it needs the nutrient. The wet soil conditions also caused a lot of problems for mid-season N applications. This was because airplanes, in many cases, could not use the muddy grass strips to take off or land and therefore, had to use paved air strips.

Disease and pest pressure was slightly lower than normal in 2015. The lone exception was blast. In Louisiana, we saw an early occurrence and a very high leaf blast incidence in the medium-grain variety Jupiter. The blast pressure was so great that many producers made two fungicide applications for the disease.

As fast as the rains started during the 2015 season, they ended just as quickly. The last quarter of the season was basically dry, and the day and nighttime temperatures neared and sometimes exceeded what we would like to see during flowering and grain fill.

If you couple that with the excessively cloudy weather that came with the rain during the first two-thirds of the season, the final result suggests a lower-than-normal yield. The state average yield has not been determined yet, but it is expected to be about 6 to 10 percent lower than the record or near-record yields of 2013 and 2014, respectively. Not too bad considering it was one of the most challenging seasons ever.

The ratoon crop in south Louisiana is well underway as I write this, and to tell the truth, it looks excellent. If official yield records were kept on the ratoon crop, I bet we would break them this year. Ratoon yields may give our overall yield a boost when all is said and done this year.

ss-wayDr. M.O. “MO” Way
Texas
Rice Research Entomologist
moway@aesrg.tamu.edu

Texas rice farmers suffered through a very challenging year in 2015. In my 32 years working at the Beaumont Center, I consider 2015 the most difficult year for our Texas rice farmers to plant their crop.

The Beaumont Center received almost 30 inches of rain during the months of March, April and May. Because of this unusually wet, cool spring, rice planting was delayed, prolonged or abandoned.

In addition, many farmers had to replant because of standing water in fields — and we all know replanting can lead to major problems later in the season. In fact, many farmers who typically produce two crops of rice had to settle for only one.

“Hopperburn” to ratoon rice refers to bronzing of foliage symptomatic of planthopper damage.

“Hopperburn” to ratoon rice refers to bronzing of foliage symptomatic of planthopper damage.

In “normal” years, about 60 percent of Texas rice acreage is ratooned — this year I estimate only 30 percent was. So yields and acreage were down in 2015. Speaking of acreage, farmers along the Lower Colorado River were denied water again in 2015 while farmers along the Brazos River cut back rice production about two-thirds due to water restrictions; thus, Texas rice acreage in 2015 was only 103,000, according to the Texas Rice Crop Survey. However, maybe our farmers in these areas will receive water in 2016 because of our wet year in 2015.

XL753, Presidio, CLXL745, CL152 and CL151 were the top five varieties in terms of planted acreage in the state this season.

Again, due to less-than-ideal weather, grass weed control was problematic. Fields were wet or conditions were windy when herbicides should have been applied, so grasses got a head start on the crop, forcing farmers to apply more herbicides than normal.

We had a relatively bad disease year, too. I saw fields east of Houston with severe brown spot. West of Houston, many fields suffered from kernel smut. In one field, 11 percent kernel smut was found. Following a wet, cool spring, it turned dry and hot in July, which resulted in excessive panicle blight in some fields.

As far as insect pest problems, rice water weevil populations and damage were higher than normal. More importantly, late in the season I was alerted to and observed extensive “hopperburn” to ratoon rice in several counties west and southwest of Houston.

We found a combination of leafhoppers and planthoppers attacking this rice, which was in heading to soft dough stages of development.

We collected specimens and sent them to a leafhopper/planthopper specialist in Maryland (U.S. Department of Agriculture facility) for identification. We are waiting for the results. I am particularly concerned about the planthoppers, which are related to leafhoppers. Both have piercing-sucking mouthparts, enabling them to suck juices from vascular tissue in the foliage. Both also excrete honeydew upon which a black

sooty mold grows. This is the first time I have observed planthoppers attacking rice, although I have collected them before in light trap samples. I thank Wade and Cliff Mock for alerting me to the planthopper problem in Brazoria County. Some planthoppers native to Central America not only cause “hopperburn” from direct feeding but also transmit a virus that can cause stunting and sometimes kill affected rice. I will keep you updated on this issue.

ss-atwellSam Atwell
Missouri
Agronomy Specialist
atwells@missouri.edu

The 2015 Missouri rice crop started late and remained late until we were blessed with a perfect harvest season. It started very cold and wet in early April and remained that way until mid-May, except for a couple days here and there. So only a few farmers planted 5 percent by April 20, with only 25 percent by May 5, followed by 65 percent on May 15, 80 percent on May 30 and the remaining 20 percent scattered up to late June.

Missouri growers planted about 184,000 acres of rice with 180,000 acres harvested. This is down from 225,000 acres in 2014. Weather, price and production costs contributed to the reduced acres. Some growers were more conservative this year and chose conventional varieties over hybrids and Clearfield, and lowered fertilizer rates along with weed control programs. And it was noticeable in some cases.

Weed control is one of those tasks that they evaluate at harvest and begin planning for the next season. I noticed that for the most part, Missouri rice farmers did a good job controlling our ample supply of weeds in 2015.

However, we had a few more spots with sprangletop, barnyard grass, red rice and sedge escapes than in past years. Flat, umbrella and yellow nut sedge seem to be on the increase. It may be because of less competition due to the low seeding rates of rice we are planting these days. Most growers try to start clean and stay clean.

One very positive note was our low irrigation pumping cost this year due to almost weekly rainfall until late July. With our already ample groundwater supply furnished by our Ozark Karst system to the north and west and the Mississippi River influence to the east, Missouri is blessed with a good low-cost replenished groundwater supply. Missouri growers irrigate 97 percent from wells and 3 percent from streams.

Missouri growers chose more conventional varieties in 2015 than in the past, with about 45 percent hybrids and 50 percent Clearfield. Of that, 95 percent was long grain and 5 percent medium grain. Our yields were average this year, perhaps down a bit from the past couple high-yielding years. These data are not official — they’re from a few consultants and myself.

I have a lot of respect for American growers who blend together very complex choices to produce high-quality economic crops. For example, growers must choose their rice production system and then build a weed and fertility control program that will work well in that system. Row- or furrow-irrigated rice is on the increase in Missouri, with about 10 percent planted in 2015. Growers feel more comfortable when they start ahead and stay ahead. 2015 was not an easy year to do that.

I want to say thanks to our independent and dealer/distributor supply consultants, Missouri Rice Research Council, the university systems and Missouri rice producers’ checkoff dollars that help all of us to partner in making Missouri a productive rice state and player in the world market.

Bobby GoldenDr. Bobby Golden
Mississippi
Extension Rice Specialist
bgolden@drec.msstate.edu

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency certified approximately 144,000 acres of rice in Mississippi during the 2015 growing season, about 30 percent less than the 187,000 acres recorded for 2014 but still more than the 2013 acreage, which was the lowest in recent history.

Once again Bolivar County led with the most rice acreage, followed by Tunica County in second. Again in 2015, most of the rice acreage was north of Highway 82, with rice seeded in approximately 16 of the 19 Delta counties.

Yield estimates are lower than the previous two years, with USDA suggesting 7,100 pounds per acre. I feel like yields will be off by at least 10 percent when all the bushels are finally counted.

Planting progress occurred in chunks for most of the state and at a much more rapid pace than in 2014, when record April rainfall delayed planting in many areas. This year as of April 15, only 30 percent of the total rice crop was planted; however, by May 19, 93 percent was in the ground.

This planting pace exceeded the three-, five- and 10-year historical average, resulting in most areas of the state being planted on time. The exception was in the far northwest corner, where rainfall delayed planting on many farms into early to mid-June.

It seems year after year that herbicide drift calls start picking up shortly after rice emergence. 2015 drift issues were much like 2014, with the lion’s share of calls centered around paraquat and pre-emergence soybean herbicide tankmix partners.

On a positive note, we fielded relatively few glyphosate calls in 2015. Most of the fields that experienced some form of drift made a turnaround and were not a complete loss; however, yield was influenced, especially in fields that received glyphosate drift. Off-target herbicide drift is a perpetual problem in the Delta. In 2015, the Mississippi Rice Promotion Board sponsored Ben Lawrence, a doctoral candidate, to help address the issue with more detailed research on drift and drift management.

Insect pest issues in 2015 were fairly average as far as rice water weevil and armyworm. Rice stinkbugs were a different story with heavy pressure in the first 10 to 20 percent of the crop that headed. Many calls from seasoned rice producers suggested it was the worst pressure they had experienced. As more rice headed, the pressure dissipated to a more manageable level.

The greatest concern in 2015 and one that definitely contributed to reduced yields was excessive heat coinciding with rice flowering and pollination. Stoneville weather data collected throughout the growing season showed that between July 11-30, daily air temperatures never fell below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. A two-day break in the heat occurred, and from Aug. 2-12 temperatures were never below 94 degrees.

Much of the early planted rice headed in this period and experienced some degree of heat-induced sterility. Great weather allowed for probably the most timely and uninterrupted harvest I have ever experienced.