Strange Is The New Normal

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

Strange is the New Normal

Arkansas rice farming in 2014 was a lot like a line heard often about playing cards: it wasn’t necessarily a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well. Luck also played a large role.

2014 was an environmental rollercoaster for the Arkansas rice crop. Favorable prices led to an increase in the forecasted acreage for the state – projected at 1.52 million acres. After the cool, wet conditions of 2013, many were prepared for a return to drier, warmer conditions for 2014. Instead, conditions for 2014 turned out to be even colder and wetter than the previous year. While the state still ended up with 1.47 million acres of rice, an additional 100,000 acres were reported as prevented planting.

Unlike most years, it seemed like this year we would never warm up and dry out. Well, at least not at a time when preflood nitrogen (N) applications could be made properly on dry ground at the appropriate timing (research has shown proper N applications set rice yield).

Many acres received N applications in a less efficient manner – on moist/muddy soil or “spoonfed” directly into floodwater. Delayed N applications often occurred in an attempt to apply urea onto dry ground, but the delays were too long and may have led to reduced yield potential early on. When N applications were made on time, but onto muddy soil or into water, some fields still did not receive enough extra N to offset the loss caused by the less efficient manner of application. Part of the reason for the delays in N application was the wind – persistent high winds led to delays in herbicide applications that needed to be made at the same time as N applications. The preferred routine of “spray, fertilize, flood” was thrown completely out of sync by both the wind and the rain.

Temperature was an issue as well – the month of July was one of the coolest on record, and it was the lowest on record in some locations. Stressful weather conditions at the internode elongation stage can lead to a reduced number of panicle branches and fewer grains per panicle. Excessive cool snaps during key reproductive developmental stages have been proposed (by me) as being at least partially to blame for less than expected yields. In a majority of the lowyielding fields that we looked at, the grain simply wasn’t there. That is, heads were small, and grain positions were few.

Weed control was largely successful despite the difficult conditions encountered when trying to make applications. The one advantage of the cool conditions and continual rainfall was that early season herbicide applications remained active for long periods of time. In some instances, this was considered a problem because the herbicide activity also seemed to be delaying rice development. A routine complaint, herbicide drift, was a problem all season long, especially with soybeans being replanted late. However, given the difficult conditions in making these applications, there was less drift than feared, but still far more than we like to see.

The cooler, wet conditions were also very favorable for disease development. Sheath blight was a concern throughout the year and aggressive enough that fewer were willing to try and “outrun” it. For the first time in about a decade, it was a year for significant blast development. In most situations with blast-susceptible cultivars, fungicide applications were made in a timely manner, and the disease was effectively managed (less than 5-10 percent blank panicles). In some fields ideal for blast development, growers attempted to get by with only one fungicide application and experienced more severe losses. In rare instances, fungicide applications were not made at all, resulting in some fields that were near total losses.

Rice stink bug seems to be a cyclical pest, and this year seems to be the start of a downturn in that cycle. Plenty of acres received at least one insecticide application for stink bug control, but few were treated more than once, which is a big change from recent seasons. A few very late-planted fields did have extremely high numbers as the remainder of rice in the area advanced past preferred feeding stages.

Right now, Arkansas is forecast to achieve a state average yield of 167 bushels per acre in 2014 (compared to the record of 168 bu/A set in 2013). That would make 2012-2014 (166, 168, 167, respectively) easily the greatest three-year yield average in state history. With the high state yield predicted for this year, it makes one wonder just how high the average could have been with a little more favorable conditions at certain critical times.

Once again, the success of our rice crop is the result of the hard work of our growers and their ability to manage a difficult-to-manage crop in a difficult-to-manage growing season – that is, many growers played a poor hand well.

Maybe next year we’ll get better cards.


Dr. John Saichuck
Extension Rice Specialst

2014: Wet and Humid

Last year, when I wrote the December Specialists Speaking article summarizing the crop of 2013, I began by reflecting on the beginning of the season and the ultimate results. Yields for 2013 set records in rice and several other crops. To expect a successive record year is asking a lot of Mother Nature, and while yields this year were good, the state average is expected to be 300 to 500 pounds per acre lower than last year. In last year’s article, I referred to comments in the May 10, 2013, edition of Field Notes in which I stated that if we had a mild, dry June, yields would be good, but if we had a wet June, they would be disappointing.

June and most of July of this year were wet and humid with temperatures that could be considered a little lower than normal even though the “comfort level” was in the red zone because of the high humidity. Wet means rain, and rain means cloud cover. The lower temperature was a plus, while the cloud cover was negative. Under the lower temperature regime, pollination was not affected even though less sunshine meant less photosynthesis. Overall, less sunlight was overcome by lower temperatures, and yields were surprisingly good. This is affirmed by reports of later-maturing rice that flowered in late July and August when temperatures had risen and poor grain fill was reported in several fields.

At this writing, ratoon crop rice has not been harvested, so total production is not exact. However, Louisiana’s acreage increased by about 50,000 acres. If the final tally is the 7,000 pounds per acre we anticipate, then we will produce about 1.5 million hundredweights more than last year.

The medium grain acreage increased dramatically from around 18,000 acres in 2013 to a little over 65,000 acres this year. Most of that was planted to the variety Jupiter. The drought in California and short water supplies there worked to our benefit here because the anticipated smaller California medium grain crop caused a bump in the price of medium grain rice in the South. A number of contracts were offered prior to or near planting, especially in northeast Louisiana where the largest acreage increase occurred.

In contrast, the special purpose rice market fell apart causing a dramatic drop from around 41,000 acres in 2013 to 5,300 this year. Most of the decrease was in the Jazzman and Jazzman 2 varieties. Limited acreage of Hidalgo and Sabine continues to be grown mostly in northeast Louisiana and Milagro in south Louisiana.

The late first crop translated into a reduction in ratoon or second crop rice from last year to this year. Acreage declined from 131,000 to 129,000 acres from 2013 to 2014 and is very late. What is in the field looks good to very good, and weather in October and early November will be critical to the success of the crop.

Clearly, prices and Farm Bill legislation will have a significant impact on rice acreage in 2015. A lot of farmers I have spoken with are hoping to have contracts for special purpose and medium grain rice to relieve some of the pressure. Where others have the option of planting soybeans, they may switch, especially if lenders do not feel that rice can cash flow as well as soybeans.

Most of you are already aware that I will retire at the end of this year, making this my last Specialists Speaking column. I have tried to write in a manner that is understandable and provide useful information with occasional attempts at humor to keep it interesting. I hope I have achieved at least some of those goals. My best to you in 2015 and all the years ahead.

ss-wayDr. M.O. “MO” Way
Rice Research Entomologist

In-field variability affects decisions

In 2014, Texas rice acreage was about 147,000. For the third straight year, minimal water was given to rice farmers on the Lower Colorado River. Some of our farmers along this river drilled or are drilling wells to water their rice crop. According to the Texas Rice Crop Survey (represents about 77 percent of total Texas rice acreage), the top five varieties, in terms of acreage, were XL723, CLXL745, Presidio, CL152 and Jupiter. We experienced an unusually cool spring, which delayed planting and early rice growth. As a result, rice stands were not optimal and the crop was not as uniform as desired. This in-field variability made decisions to apply pesticides/ fertilizers/growth regulators at the appropriate times more difficult than normal. In addition, our ratoon crop is later than usual. I still do not have solid yield and quality data, but crop consultants tell me main crop yields and quality are very good – maybe not a record, but close. They also think the ratoon crop is looking very good. In general, weather during main and ratoon crop harvests has been ideal. We did not suffer through a hurricane or devastating storms this season, so lodging has not been a factor.

Disease pressure in 2014 across the Texas Rice Belt was relatively low due to weather conditions generally unfavorable for the development of most diseases. However, damage caused by rice blast, sheath blight and narrow brown leaf spot occurred in localized areas. Outbreaks of leaf and neck blast took place in Chambers (east of Houston) and Victoria (southwest of Houston) Counties, respectively. This is the first time in recent years that rice blast has attacked rice in the western part of the Texas Rice Belt. In addition, early season cold weather induced the occurrence of seedling diseases that caused a significant stand loss in some early plantings. Yield losses caused by straighthead occurred in localized fields across Texas. Other diseases causing minor damage to rice include brown spot, sheath rot, kernel smut and false smut.

Water hemp continues to be a troublesome weed. Rice water weevil, rice stink bug and stalk borer activity were relatively normal. I estimate about 80 percent of Texas rice acreage is planted with insecticide- treated seed. This percentage continues to increase yearly as farmers realize the benefits of this technology.

Fall anyworm
Fall anyworm

The most unusual insect problem this year was an outbreak of fall armyworm, particularly bad on organic rice. Many organic rice farmers applied Dipel, which contains Bacillus thuringiensis. I received fairly positive reports concerning the efficacy of Dipel against fall armyworm. However, some fields were eaten down to the water line by fall armyworm, delaying rice development and releasing weeds such as hemp sesbania and rough jointvetch. I know portions of some of these fields were not harvested due to excessive growth of these aggressive weeds. Organic rice acreage in Texas continues to grow. I recently heard Texas organic rice producers are receiving $29/cwt which is obviously driving the increase in organic rice acreage.

One last comment: in my last Rice Farming article this past summer, I mentioned Dr. Garry McCauley’s retirement (By the way, Garry and Ruth are enjoying the good life). But, I failed to recognize Dr. Arlen Klosterboer who served admirably as the Texas Rice Specialist for many years. Basically, Garry took over many of Arlen’s duties, particularly on the west side of the Texas Rice Belt, when Arlen retired. My apologies to both Arlen and Garry for this omission.


Dr. Bruce LinquistDr. Bruce Linquist
UCCE Rice Specialist

A Year of Drought and Warm Weather

California has had drought-like conditions for the past three years; however, this last winter was extremely severe, resulting in low water reserves in the reservoirs that supply irrigation for rice and other crops. The result of these conditions was that rice acreage was down (estimated to be about 430,000 acres) and roughly 20 to 25 percent less than normal. The amount of water available to growers depended on irrigation district.

In many areas, farmers were limited in the amount of water they received, resulting in no-spill water management. In areas affected by salinity, this may have a negative impact on yields. This year also saw more growers using well water than normal. The growing season was warmer than usual. Temperatures were warmer than average, especially early (May and June) and late (September) during the growing season.

As of this writing, the crop has mostly been harvested, but the impact of these factors on rice yields and quality is not yet known. As winter approaches, the effects of the drought are still being felt. Normally, rice fields are flooded during the winter for straw decomposition. However, this year there is limited water for straw decomposition. In many areas, water is being supplied for decomposition but only to fill the fields.

After November 1, there will be no further guarantee of water. Growers are being encouraged to continue incorporating their straw, flood (if possible) and board their fields to store winter rainfall in order to best facilitate winter straw decomposition.

Another effect of the drought is that hay (i.e. alfalfa and wheat) prices have increased due to limited supply. Higher prices have made rice straw more attractive. This year it appears that more rice straw was baled than in previous years.


ss-atwellSam Atwell
Agronomy Specialist

Another Good Crop

The 2014 Missouri rice crop is 95 percent harvested, with mostly average or above yields. Although we don’t have the final yield data, we have been blessed with another good crop. It was a “normal year” of ups and downs. The extended cool spring and a cool snap in late summer caused a delay in maturity. However, 2014 was a bit earlier than 2013. There seemed to be more cold water spots this year, but they were tiny. We had the usual herbicide drift problems even though wind speeds were less than the past two years. Insects were low to normal with stink bugs mounting late.

Diseases were low except for sheath blight on some varieties along the southeast side of the Bootheel. Blast was primarily on CL151 on the southwest side. Blast was more prevalent in a couple of bedded-row rice fields due to lack of water. Fertility issues and lodging seemed to be less than past years. I contribute this to our growers paying closer attention to their nitrogen program with many of them following the University of Arkansas N-St*R program and others. Missouri farmers planted 216,000 acres of rice in 2014 – 210,000 acres of long grain and 6,000 acres of medium grain. They have good reasons for needing diverse varieties that fit their specific conditions and situations in 10 Missouri counties. Some growers want short, some tall, some early and some later. Some want disease resistance; some want the Clearfield system, while others want less expensive seed so they can plant thicker stands.

Their variety selections were divided among 10 varieties. About 50 percent of Missouri farmers choose hybrid rice for silt soils because they often see a yield increase over conventional varieties and like the disease package. Others prefer varieties that tend to stand and grade better, which gives them a premium price. Since southeast Missouri is the beginning of the Mississippi Delta, our soils vary like those below us from coarse sand to Sharkey clay. About 70 percent of our soils are silt with a clay base and about 25 percent heavy clay with only five percent sandy. Over 90 percent of our rice is in a conventional flood system, but, with these soil differences, we have some successful bedded- row rice and less than one percent pivot-irrigated rice.

Rice farmers in Missouri have increased interest in growing rice on beds, a system referred to as “bedded-row rice.” University of Missouri has been researching the bedded-row rice project since the early 1980s. With the introduction of new technology, new varieties and herbicides for weed control, farmers are now seeking benefits from the rotational bedded-row option. Unlike conventional flooding rice production systems, bedded-row rice is a natural fit for rotation and cover crops. The ease in rotating to other bedded crops such as corn, soybeans and cotton provides a significant economic advantage to producers. The challenges lamented by producers are weed control difficulty, irrigation management and the lack of information on the system.

Bobby GoldenDr. Bobby Golden
Extension Rice Specialist

Persistent Pest Problems Noted

First, let me begin by saying it was great to get back in a rice field this year. After being out of rice for the last five years, it was a welcome return. It took a little while to get my rice legs back under me, but after the first month of running up and down the road diagnosing issues, I felt comfortable and back at home.

The USDA estimates of 190,000 acres harvested in Mississippi was up approximately 1.5 times more than the low acreage of 124,000 acres harvested in 2013 (the lowest acreage since 1977). Once again, Bolivar County led the charge with the most acreage dedicated to rice in the state, with Tunica County coming in second. In 2014, most of the rice acreage was cultivated north of highway 82 with rice seeded in approximately 16 of the 19 Delta counties. Yield estimates are slightly lower than the state record yield of 7,400 lb/acre set last year. This is partly because of a lot of late rice due to inclement weather in late March and early April. Rainfall recorded at Stoneville for the month of April was almost double that of the 100-year average. However, we did get a great amount of acreage planted in what could be considered the normal time frame.

Shortly after rice emergence, the herbicide drift bug reared its ugly head once again in the Delta with many calls coming in. In contrast to years past, most of the complaints were not glyphosate, but paraquat, and just about anything you can tankmix with it. It seems that this is a perpetual problem in the Delta and was probably worse this year with a late-emerging rice crop and soybean burndown applications coinciding. Most of the calls we received this year made a turnaround, and the affected areas grew out of the drift issues.

Just as soon as we turned the corner on drift, Mother Nature threw us a curveball with preflood nitrogen applications. Most of our acreage received preflood nitrogen in less-than-ideal conditions due to the extremely wet, early growing season in the Delta. In many instances, we were left with no choice but to fertilize on wet ground or into the water because we were simply running out of time.

Persistent pest problems also plagued the 2014 growing season, with many fields containing big grasses that were treated post-flood due to the wet conditions, which we all know is not an ideal situation. Armyworms seemed to dominate the landscape throughout the growing season with many border acres treated and some full fields sprayed. Probably the greatest concern in Mississippi in 2014 was rice leaf blast. Historically, Mississippi doesn’t have a great deal of blast pressure, but environmental conditions throughout the season coupled with susceptible host cultivars proved troublesome for many. Most of the acres affected with blast were treated before the disease could cause substantial economic loss; however, it was the hottest topic at the coffee shop for rice producers this year.

The middle of summer was met with milder than normal temperatures. Average daily high and low temperatures for July averaged approximately four degrees cooler than the 85-year Stoneville average. This helped reduce the negative influence of high temperatures on pollen and more than likely helped offset some of the issues faced throughout the early growing season. All in all, with the many setbacks we faced throughout 2014, our producers were very resilient and showed just how great they are by overcoming the early season setbacks and producing an estimated yield of 7,000 lb/acre that is in line with the long-term state average.



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