This space is generally provided to wrap-up the season and reflect on the attributes that aided production as well as the many setbacks that were encountered and eventually overcome on our way to producing the 2020 crop.
I find it very difficult to collect my thoughts on what was a very different year for multiple reasons, mostly since this will be the last specialist speaking column I write as the MSU rice specialist.
By the time this prints, most should know that I have stepped down to take a role with the J.R. Simplot organization. Therefore, I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to all the producers, consultants, colleagues, and my team of associates and grad students who helped build my research and Extension program and bolstered our careers along the way.
When I started my graduate career, my dream job was to be a rice specialist in the Mid-South, and few can say that they achieved their dream. But I did and cherished every moment.
The two most important things I will miss is the great team we built in the soil fertility/rice agronomy program, all who will be lifetime friends, and secondly the daily ride to diagnose field issues with Jason Bond. Over the past decade, we worked most every field call as a team, no matter who received it, and put forth everything we had to attempt to solve the problem.
Now let’s get back to wrapping up the year. To start, this year was perhaps the weirdest I have encountered as the MSU rice specialist. COVID-19 aside, the year progressed about as smoothly as I’ve ever seen. This year’s total planted and failed acres were slightly below 165,000 acres, a marked increase from last year’s meager 114,000.
Like always, Bolivar County led with the most rice acreage in the state (43,106 acres) and for the first time in several years eclipsed the 40,000 mark. Tunica County came in second with 25,960 acres. Most of the state’s rice was cultivated north of Highway 82 with rice grown in about 17 counties during 2020.
Planting progress would be considered normal but occurred in chunks with most (95%) of rice planting completed by June1. Compare this to last year when planting was not finished until the third week of June with a few acres pushed into July. Much of the early planted rice struggled with wet weather, and hybrids appeared to struggle worse perhaps due to the lower seeding rate and the consistent cool, wet weather.
ersistent rain did allow preemergence herbicides to remain active and in most cases, we went to flood with a pretty clean crop. Few issues were encountered during the season for the bulk of the rice acreage. For a year with a record five hurricanes, Mississippi rice producers for the most part escaped with minimal lodging and long-lasting effects.
As an Extension guy, you know it’s got the potential to be a good year when your phone rarely rings, and that was the case this year. Outside of planting issues we had early and some issues with harvest aid selection, the MSU rice team probably received fewer phone calls in 2020 than we have in recent years.
Talking with numerous consultants and producers throughout the year paid off with perhaps one of, if not, the best yielding crops we’ve harvested in Mississippi since I’ve been working rice.
Aside from the fields still remaining to harvest as we inch into November, I feel like we may have a state record yield when all the bushels are counted. Hopefully, the quiet year with limited issues and good yields translates into optimism for rice in 2021.
Mother Nature again played a role in Texas rice
The 2020 Texas rice season is coming to an end, but much of our ratoon crop is still in the field. According to the Texas Rice Crop Survey, Texas grew about 180,000 acres of rice in 2020 with almost 60% of acres ratooned.
The Top 5 cultivars planted by acreage were 1. CL153; 2. XL723; 3. CLXL745; 4. Presidio; and 5. XL7301. I still don’t have accurate yield figures, but crop consultants on the west side tell me average main crop yields will surpass those in 2019, which were about 7,800 pounds per acre dry, according to the Texas Rice Crop Survey.
I think ratoon crop yields may be highly variable. Hurricane Laura did not affect Texas rice too much, but Hurricane Delta occurred when the ratoon crop rice was flowering on the east side, affecting pollination and causing lodging. Some of the ratoon crop on the east side has been harvested, and preliminary yields are below expectations.
Head rice yields across the Texas Rice Belt also are somewhat low due in part to adverse weather during rice flowering and maturation.
On the other hand, spring temperatures and rainfall cooperated. But due to a prior wet fall and winter, a lot of land was not able to be worked until spring, which delayed planting. For the west side, Hurricane Hannah, which made landfall in south Texas in July, brought heavy rains when a lot of main crop rice was maturing.
This delayed harvest, so some rice was cut too dry, leading to lower-than-desired head rice yields. There were problems with a lack of drying/storage facilities because of high yields and a lot of acres being harvested at the same time.
In addition, soggy fields were rutted up from main crop harvest, making the ratoon crop less productive. As usual, Mother Nature plays a big role in Texas rice production.
Sheath blight was problematic on the main crop, and narrow brown leaf spot was severe on the ratoon crop as reported by Dr. Shane Zhou. Rice water weevil populations were high, but farmers who used a seed treatment were spared.
Rice stink bug densities were also high, but farmers who applied an insecticide with residual activity maintained good yields and quality. The exotic rice planthopper was found again in Texas in 2020, but no damage was reported. A new rice pest was discovered in Wharton County attacking maturing rice.
It is the English grain aphid, which I have observed on rice in the greenhouse but not in the field. Thanks to Kate Crumley and Dr. David Kerns for collecting and identifying this aphid. We will be looking for it in 2021. Finally, a lot of rice farmers applied AV-1011 to their seed to repel blackbirds. I have not received any complaints about this seed treatment.
As a parting comment, my heart goes out to our Louisiana colleagues — I know our friends in southwest Louisiana received the brunt of Hurricanes Laura and Delta.
2020: The Year of the Cattail
The last thing anyone expected when 2020 began was to have a stranger year than 2019. The rainfall of 2019 continued into 2020, only this time the storms were more frequent, making small working windows a premium.
Planting progress was initially even slower than 2019 and only gradually outpaced it later. Ultimately, planted acres did increase from 1.12 million acres in 2019 to 1.45 million acres in 2020.
The weather remained largely wet through mid-June, and even that month was characterized by cloudy, overcast conditions. This is the first time I can remember receiving regular calls about controlling cattails in rice fields before and after planting — it was that wet.
As we progressed beyond midseason, it became obvious that the rain and environmental conditions were leading to fertility issues, primarily potassium, and subsequent disease problems as a result.
While we did see fair temperatures in August and September, we did not get a “late summer” as in 2019 to really bolster the later-planted rice. Instead, we saw overall variable yields throughout much of the earlier-planted crop and a reluctance of the later-planted crop to mature and reach normal harvest moistures.
An update on the 2020 crop would be incomplete without mentioning the various tropical systems that affected the state. Tropical Storm Cristobal brought rains in early June, but afterward drier conditions took over through much of July and August.
Hurricane Laura arrived in late August but caused less initial rice damage than originally feared. However, left in Laura’s wake was a week of windy, rainy conditions that were worse on rice lodging and quality than Laura.
Hurricanes Sally and Tropical Storm Beta sent more rain across the state in mid-September before Hurricane Delta did the same to start October and Hurricane Zeta to end the month. Yet another frequently wet, muddy harvest was the norm for many growers this year.
The state average yield is currently reported by USDA as 166.7 bushels per acre for 2020. This would be slightly higher than for 2019. But it seems likely to end up lower based on good but variable early yields and difficult conditions for the later-planted portion of the crop.
Late-season storms overshadow ideal 2020 growing conditions
The 2020 Louisiana rice-growing season began with optimism of improved growing conditions and yields compared to the lackluster crop and weather that marred the 2019 season. Economics of rice production penciled out better than other row crops in Louisiana, which caused the planted rice acres in the state to explode from approximately 414,000 to over 476,000.
The 15% increase in acres came from rice-producing parishes all over the state; however, the largest increases were focused in northeastern Louisiana. In fact, Morehouse Parish increased its rice acres from 33,981 to 50,144, making it the fourth largest rice-producing parish in the state.
The Louisiana Rice Variety by Parish Survey conducted annually by Extension agents indicated that the state planted 89% long grain, 10% medium grain and the remainder in special purpose rice varieties. The top planted rice varieties and hybrids included CL153 (19.5%), Cheniere (11.6%), CLXL745 (13%), CL111 (10.8%), XP753 (9%), Mermentau (6.6%), Gemini (5.8%) and PVL02 (4.9%).
Herbicide-tolerant cultivars represented 60% of Louisiana’s acreage in 2020, with IMI-resistant varieties and hybrids (Clearfield and FullPage, respectively) making up 54% of the total acres and Provisia making up approximately 6%. Hybrids were grown on 33% of Louisiana’s rice acres.
Another trend in 2020 was the continuing increase of furrow-irrigated rice, also known as row rice, in northeast Louisiana. Acres topped 35,600 in 2020. Plantings have more than doubled each year since we saw the practice debut on 2,500 acres in 2017. Furrow-irrigated rice was an insurable production practice for the first time in 2020, which may have positively influenced the 131% increase in acres from 2019 to 2020.
Early season weather was ideal in southwest Louisiana, with an estimated 70% to 75% of the region’s crop planted during the first two weeks of March. Warmer-than-normal conditions were observed during March, with temperatures exceeding 80 degrees Fahrenheit for a couple days in south Louisiana. The conditions were perfect for germination and early season growth and development. Stands were excellent, and the rice grew quickly.
Rice planting in northeast Louisiana typically begins in early April. Although low-lying fields were delayed due to wet conditions, most of the region was able to get the crop in during the recommended window.
Disease and insect pressure were not excessive either. Rice yields in southwest Louisiana were excellent when harvest began. Reported yields at the time put us on a course for the second highest statewide average in history. Early harvested rice in northeast Louisiana followed suit with high yields.
Hurricane Laura hit south Louisiana on Aug. 27, when harvest was approximately 95% completed in southwest Louisiana and 40% to 50% completed in northeast Louisiana. Laura was a Category 4 hurricane that made landfall near Cameron, Louisiana. While the storm only damaged a small portion of the crop that was still in the field in southwest Louisiana, it severely damaged farm buildings, equipment and grain storage facilities.
The worst hit areas were in Cameron, Calcasieu and western Jefferson Davis parishes. Many grain bins were destroyed, leaving harvested rice exposed to the weather conditions. A cooperative effort of rice industry volunteers pitched in to help move this rice to other storage and drying facilities as quickly as possible.
Laura was still a Category 1 hurricane when it hit the rice crop in northeast Louisiana. High winds and excessive rains caused flowering rice to blank while more matured rice shattered and lodged. Economic damage estimates from hurricanes like Laura are difficult to tabulate in the short term. However, a survey conducted by Extension agents and coordinated by Dr. Kurt Guidry put Laura’s damage to the rice industry at $28 million.
Hurricane Delta made landfall in southwest Louisiana as a very strong Category 2 storm Oct. 9. And Delta’s was eerily similar to Laura; however, this time the region’s ratoon crop region was at or near maturity and considered good to excellent. The high winds caused shattering, and many growers likened it to harvesting with a stripper header, meaning that the straw was erect but the grain was on the ground.
Growers in northeast Louisiana were still fighting first crop lodged rice and wet soils prior to Delta, which just added more grain shattering, lodging and excessive rainfall to the region. Harvest in the region was stalled so much that there were still some fields unharvested in early November. Early loss estimates from Delta were about $24 million.
California 2020 in review
Favorable spring weather led to an overall earlier planting date than average. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture data, 50% of the rice crop was planted by May 7 (a week earlier than average). About 12% of the rice crop was planted by April 29.
Early planting also led to an earlier-than-average harvest with 50% of the rice acreage cut by Oct 4. This resulted in an average season length (planting to harvest) of 150 days, which is fairly typical for the past decade.
Growers are letting rice dry longer in the field since some of the newer varieties do not lose quality when harvested at lower grain moisture. The use of azoxystrobin fungicides, such as Quadris, also tends to prolong grain fill.
Early in the season due to COVID-related supply chain issues, aqua-ammonia (the main fertilizer nitrogen source for California rice growers) was limited. This resulted in some growers delaying their planting or applying liquid urea instead.
Despite very good conditions for land preparation, weeds were challenging this year. Blast in the northern part of the Sacramento Valley was bad; This was especially true on M-205 and M-209.
Smoke from wildfires from mid-August to mid-September occurred during the peak grain fill period. While solar radiation was reduced, this did not seem to have a large negative effect on rice yields. As of writing in late October, most of the rice has been harvested. There was no rainfall during harvest, so it progressed very smoothly and I am guessing rice yields will be pretty close to average.
However, throughout the harvest period, there were periods of hot, dry north winds followed by days of cooler weather with a lot of morning dew. When rice grain dries and rehydrates, grain quality usually drops.
M-211 is a new variety that was grown primarily for seed this year in commercial fields. One grower entered an M-211 seed field into the University of California Cooperative Extension Yield Contest and achieved a yield of roughly 128 hundredweight per acre. Data from the California Rice Experiment Station indicates that M-211 has a very high yield potential and is close to having premium quality characteristics.