The one silver lining for the 2019 rice season in Louisiana was that we had a dry September, and many growers were able to work the ground and prepare for the 2020 season. It was a way to close the door on the 2019 season, which, for many, was a season they would like to forget.
Rice yields in Louisiana were significantly down in 2019 and so was milling on the estimated 415,000 acres harvested. Many growers in southwest Louisiana reported their farms were seeing a yield reduction anywhere between 10% to 40% across the farm.
Reduced yields were also reported in northeast Louisiana but not to the extreme levels observed in the southern portion of the state. Current National Agricultural Statistics Service estimates project the state yield average at 6,650 pounds per acre.
There are many factors that contributed to the poor rice yields this year. In fact, you could say there were poor growing conditions from the beginning to the end of the season. After harvest in 2018, the ground remained saturated, preventing cultivation and land preparation for the 2019 season, so most of the seedbed preparation occurred just before planting.
Planting began in earnest the third week of March when the soils dried, and we had approximately a two-week window that drill planting occurred. The bulk of the rice was planted in this window. On April 4, the first of a handful of storms brought excessive rainfall to the region that overtopped young and emerging rice.
Rice emergence and development was slow and uneven due to the cold, wet soils. Rice fields throughout the region had spotty stands, and it was common to see three-leaf rice and rice just emerging from the ground. While this in itself does not seem that bad, it does make agronomic decisions difficult. Proper herbicide application, flood establishment, nitrogen application and other decisions are dependent on the proper rice growth stage and can negatively affect yield at the end of the season.
Once most rice was fertilized and flooded, another large rainstorm occurred that flooded and overtopped several rice fields.
Only a few acres were completely lost due to the flooding.
However, a lot of rice in the region was once again stressed while submerged. Some growers also opted not to apply more nitrogen fertilizer after draining their fields to allow the rice to recover.
It is critical to maintain the flood for three weeks immediately after fertilizing and flooding rice after application to allow the rice to take that nitrogen up and be used. If a field is drained and oxygen is reintroduced to the system, the ammonium nitrogen can be converted to nitrate nitrogen, which will be lost after reflooding the rice. Therefore, it is critical to apply more N if this occurs.
One of the biggest things that reduced yield in 2019 was Hurricane Barry, which made landfall July 11. Pre-landfall predictions had rainfall estimates of over 25 inches.
Thankfully, most of the rice in southwest Louisiana received much less rain. Since most of the rice was in the early stages of heading, flooding at that point could have been a major disaster for Louisiana rice. However, Barry did bring with it rain and a lot of wind.
A good portion of the rice in the region was flowering at the time. Rain and wind can disrupt flowering and cause the grain to blank. Since Barry was a slow-moving storm, we had several days where pollination was disrupted and yield was lost. The blanked grain was also a vector for increased disease pressure later in the season.
At harvest, black kernel smut and false smut were excessive in southwest Louisiana, so excessive in some cases that trucks containing excessive smut levels were turned around at multiple grain facilities.
Historically, smuts have not been prevalent in southwest Louisiana, and preventative applications of propiconazole fungicides at the 2- to 4-inch panicle in the boot growth stage are rarely used. Due to the epidemic levels of the smuts in 2019, more applications will need to be applied in the future if we want to properly manage smuts.
Texas rice growers had a tough year
It was a tough year for Texas rice farmers. We still don’t have good yield figures for 2019, but I have been told by selected crop consultants and farmers that main crop yields are off 10% to 20% compared to most recent years. This is largely the result of late plantings due to wet and cool conditions during early spring.
Then we had frequent rain when most of our crop was heading/flowering. Finally, Imelda struck in mid-September and dumped about 35 inches of rain in 24 hours at the Beaumont Center. Maturing rice went underwater for a short period of time.
Up to the time of Imelda, the Jefferson County Airport south of the Beaumont Center had received over 70 inches of rain during 2019. Add the rain from Imelda, and this area of Southeast Texas will be well over 100 inches of precipitation for 2019.
Virtually all Texas rice farmers used some kind of insecticidal/fungicidal seed treatment in 2019. This was a good practice because seedling diseases and rice water weevil damage are exacerbated by the kind of weather we experienced.
Kernel smut continued to be troublesome in 2019. Rice stink bug populations were controlled with applications of Tenchu 20SG. Stem borer populations were generally low for 2019. I received no calls this year about stem borers, but we continue to find the vast majority of stem borers to be Mexican rice borer.
We did experience late infestations of fall armyworm primarily attacking pasture grasses. These very late infestations are unusual — something we will need to keep our eye on in 2020. We did discover low populations of the exotic rice planthopper/delphacid attacking ratoon rice west and south of Houston in Harris County.
Fortunately, we had a Quarantine Emergency Exemption for Endigo ZCX and a 2(ee) recommendation for Tenchu 20SG. Many thanks to Kevin Haack at the Texas Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for submitting and approving these registrations.
Arkansas: rice acres late but lucky
Well into what is usually our prime planting season, 2019 couldn’t get started. The rains that began in fall 2018 continued well into April. Ground dried just enough to get a few days of field work here and there, but it was mostly a frustrating winter and spring where little was accomplished. Through the first week of May, the state was still less than 50% planted.
Ultimately, Arkansas would remain on a planting pace that was the slowest in 25 years. Many were concerned about the yield prospects for this very late-planted crop, and for good reason.
Historically, as planting is delayed into May, you can expect a 10% yield decline and that decreases as you move into June planting.
Conditions were less than ideal even after we got the crop in the ground. The wet weather obviously made planting difficult but also created issues with nitrogen fertilization and weed control. However, the crop overall turned out much better than many would have predicted early on given the delayed planting.
As it happened, the mild, wet conditions continued throughout the summer, which was better for the overall crop and late-planted rice and reminiscent of the record yield season of 2013. A lack of extreme high temperatures minimized plant stress on much of the rice.
The very late fields benefited from what was coined a “late summer” with temperatures in the 90s through late August and early September.
Harvest conditions were very good early on, but rice was drying faster than expected with the high temperatures and low humidity. Many were shocked at just how much it dried in the field. Despite this, most early milling yields were good.
Once the weather pattern changed and humidity and moisture returned, milling headed south very rapidly. Very late-planted, high-moisture rice did see a resurgence in milling yields. Overall the milling yields for the state will likely be below average.
The state average yield is currently reported by USDA as 166.7 bushels per acre for 2019. This seems a little high, with an expectation that yields are overall about 2% to 3% lower than 2018. One of the bigger stories of the year is that with all the delays, Arkansas only planted 1.126 million acres and had over 500,000 acres of prevented planting on rice. This certainly spells a set up for a large resurgence in acres for 2020.
The 2019 season had shades of 2017
Flash back to this column in 2017, and it tells a very similar acreage story for Mississippi’s 2019 rice crop — an acreage reduction from the previous year. This year’s total planted and failed acres reached a final tally of 114,923, eerily similar to the 114,500 acres we had in 2017, both the lowest acreages since 1977.
Like always, Bolivar County led with 31,796 planted acres, the most acreage dedicated to rice in the state, with Tunica County coming in second with 22,868. Tunica County also had the most prevented rice acres in the state with 10,775. Similar to the past five years, most of the rice acreage was cultivated north of U.S. Highway 82 with rice seeded in 16 counties.
Planting progress was exceedingly slow for Mississippi, with rice planting occurring at a slower pace than the three-, five- and 10-year averages. Rice planting started off similar to years past, and then hit a wall at the end of the first week of April when wet weather arrived to much of the state and never left until late May.
By the third week of May, only 60% of the Mississippi crop was in the ground; historically by this week, we are close to 90% complete. Rice planting was completed by the third week of June in 2019.
Much of the early planted rice struggled with the persistent wet weather, with many fields completely submerged for as much as 10 days in many areas. Some fields were salvageable, but replants were conducted on many acres due to stand decline and rice stretched past the point of no return.
The wet soil conditions also made field work and levee construction difficult in areas. The consistent rain did allow preemergence herbicides to remain active, and in most cases, we went to flood with a pretty clean crop. After flooding, we observed many instances of rice not growing properly and many sulfur and nutrient deficiencies.
These issues primarily arose from most of our ground being worked wet and shallow in the winter of 2018 and early 2019. I walked many flooded rice fields that were like walking on concrete, something that is difficult to fathom in buckshot soils.
Some of the greatest attributes of the 2019 growing season were the mild temperatures and excellent harvest weather.
Excluding the extremely late-planted rice and areas in northern Mississippi, most of our rice was harvested before rainy weather in October sent us out of the fields.
As of Oct. 29, there are still some acres left to harvest in areas, but for the majority of the state, good harvest weather was a welcome sight. State average yields are expected to be slightly greater in 2019 than in previous years and should carry over excitement for increased rice acres in Mississippi during 2020.
2019 in review
As I write this article Oct. 25, the California rice crop is still being harvested. The big story of the year for California was the record rainfall in mid- to late May when rice was being planted.
While this rainfall did not reduce overall acreage by too much (the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports 496,000 acres planted), it did delay planting. This year, it was not uncommon for farmers to be planting in early June.
More problematic, it resulted in many farmers planting in less-than-ideal conditions. Farmers had to cut corners on land operations or fertility management just to make sure the crop was planted. Under these conditions of rain and trying to plant quickly, fertility and weed management were a challenge for many growers during the first half of the season.
After May, the season was favorable with relatively mild temperatures through the growing season and a relatively warm and dry harvest period. Blast was a problem in Butte and Glenn counties with some fields being severely affected.
While smut was a big problem last year, this year it was not. Armyworms remain an issue in the northern parts of the valley, but Intrepid was available early in the season so damage from armyworms is not expected to affect yields.
Harvest began in mid-September. Based on what I’ve heard so far, yields from rice planted before the rains were good; however, yields were lower from rice planted during and after the rains.
I am also hearing milling quality is a bit down this year and am not sure why. Last year, California rice yields averaged 86.2 hundredweight per acre; this year’s yields are likely to be less than that.