The dry season
We started the year focused on the drastic increases in crop input prices for the 2022 season. Our attention was shifted once the spring rains finally stopped at the end of May and stayed away for 50+ days. In mid-July, only small rainfall events occurred to help with, but not resolve, the drought conditions.
So, we were left to manage this rice crop, and our rotational crops, strictly based on our irrigation capacity without any help. It wasn’t always pretty. Rice fields took exceptionally long times to get flooded, and rapidly growing rice tends to take up water about as fast as we can deliver it.
Rotational crops (looking at you, corn) suffered when tough irrigation capacity decisions had to be made (what was going to get water and what wasn’t). Wells and pumps ran non-stop unless they failed. Diesel and electricity weren’t cheap.
The early season weather delayed our planting progress and helped reduce our overall planted acres, along with competition from soybean and corn. Ultimately, we settled in with about 1.1 million rice acres total with some rice planted into June and even July.
Insect and disease issues were reduced largely due to the dry conditions. However, rice stink bug control with pyrethroid insecticides was once again problematic as resistance increases. Emergency measures were required to access alternatives to keep stink bugs in check, and this will be an increasing issue in future seasons. Given the late-planted nature of some of the crop, combined with late flooding and nitrogen applications, an increase in false smut occurred but was generally not to levels detrimental to the crop.
The stress of daytime and nighttime temperatures, combined with the drought conditions, made for a difficult season that stressed both the crop and growers. Yields can be classified as good to fair, but overall difficult to gauge due to a large amount of variability from grower-to-grower and farm-to-farm. State average yields are certainly lower than 2021, and likely to be slightly lower than the three-to-five-year average.
On the positive side, milling yields were an improvement compared to 2021. The dry summer followed by a dry harvest season allowed us to harvest a better-quality crop in the end to help make up for some of the yield reductions.
The persistent drought conditions still provide concern for surface water availability going into the 2023 season. Recharge is needed for surface water storage to be viable prior to planting in 2023, or it will affect acreage intentions. Additionally, input costs (particularly fertilizer and fuel) will continue to have a great bearing on cropping decisions next season.
If there are no dramatic changes between now and planting, it is reasonable to expect rice acreage to remain somewhat flat in the neighborhood of 1.2 million acres. A favorable spring could lead to 1.3 million acres, but some things may have to shift in favor of rice to see it.
Another crop in the books
It’s great to be back and contributing to Rice Farming magazine for my second year as the University of Missouri rice specialist, but my first entire crop season in Missouri. I was spoiled by coming in last year just in time for harvest and with a state record yield on the horizon. This year presented us with challenges from the get-go, but we ultimately made it to the end!
Weather hardships in the spring when rains would not stop, combined with high fertilizer prices and rice futures that did not catch up for some time, resulted in total rice acreage much less than forecasted. FSA-planted acres as of Oct. 22 were just over 150,000 — dropping us to fifth place in total rice acreage for the United States.
Many of our growers were not able to put a seed in the ground until late April, but once the rain decided to shut off, it did indeed shut off. Little rainfall, combined with high temperatures near 100 degrees Fahrenheit for a good portion of June and July, led to delays in establishing a flood on our flood-irrigated rice and excessive irrigation on our furrow-irrigated rice.
We’ve been lucky to receive “catch-up” rains on our furrow-irrigated rice at key times since acreage blew up. However, this year that did not happen and has exposed some areas where we might rethink our irrigation strategy going into the future.
While the late planting window pushed back heading and ultimately maturity, by the time we got to that point, temperatures had receded and left us with mid-80s/upper-60s for high and low temperatures, respectively. Those near-ideal temperatures helped us salvage yield and likely grain quality as well. It appears grain yield for 2022 will end slightly above average, although still quite a bit less than last year’s bin-buster for many.
The major harvest window for Missouri rice came and went in quick fashion, from a combination of lower acreage and great harvest weather. Some did not catch a rain at all during harvest, allowing us to get rice out of the field without ruts. Many producers did not miss a day in the field as long as grain moisture was where it needed to be. In fact, a good portion of ground is ready for a drill to be dropped in next spring, and it’ll be here before we know it.
Like I ended last year’s comments at this time, I’m beyond blessed to be serving the rice industry and would love for you to reach out to me anytime with comments or questions. As always, eat Missouri rice!
2022 year in review
2022 was a year like no other we’ve seen in recent history. Following three years of drought with limited water supplies, rice acreage was down to a little more than 250,000 acres — about half of a typical year. California rice acreage hasn’t been this low since 1958.
For the most part, unplanted rice acres were left to fallow. The impact was greatest on the west side of the valley (along the I5 corridor). There were many rice growers that did not grow any rice, a first for many of them after generations of growing the crop. This reduction in acreage also had large effects on local economies and other industries that support the rice industry.
Due to a dry spring, planting started early, and 50% of the rice was planted by May 5. The major source of irrigation water is runoff from the Sierra mountain range, and while this was the case in 2022, many growers used additional ground water to supplement. For many, managing water during the season was a challenge that led to weed problems for some.
Insect and disease problems were normal. While planting was early, May temperatures were low, which delayed crop progress. Low early season temperatures and planting a greater percentage of M-211 (a longer duration variety) contributed to a longer-than-average growing season. Half of the rice area was harvested by Oct. 13, resulting in an average season length of 161 days, which is about 10 days longer than normal.
Yields are expected to be a lower this year. This is in part due to the water problems mentioned earlier; however, from Sept. 1 to Sept. 9 the Sacramento Valley experienced historically high temperatures. Maximum temperatures ranged from 103 to 116 degrees Fahrenheit. Nighttime temperatures were often above 70 degrees Fahrenheit (data from Sacramento airport).
This period coincided with flowering and early grain fill for much of the rice. Such temperatures during flowering are known to cause blanking and reduced yields. Also, high nighttime temperatures during grain fill can cause chalkiness and reduce milling quality. Early reports from growers all support that yields and grain quality are down.
Following harvest, there’s been a large amount of rice acreage where the rice straw has been baled. This is in part due to the lack of winter water to flood fields for decomposition; however, with the drought, rice straw becomes an option for livestock feed in the San Joaquin Valley. This fall, some growers are getting a relatively good price for their rice straw.
There is a lot of uncertainty among growers about what next year holds. Certainly, a dry winter does not bode well for the rice industry. So, all eyes are on the weather.
Louisiana faced challenges growing rice in 2022
Many farmers and others related to the rice industry will tell you that when it comes to rice farming, every year has its challenges. Many farmers have told me that the year 2022 was no different. There was a short window where the soil was dry enough to plant, which occurred during the early part of March.
Most producers in South Louisiana scrambled to plant as much as they could during this brief window. North Louisiana producers weren’t as lucky because the rain just wouldn’t stop. It was late before many were able to plant. When it did stop, everyone began to wonder, “When will it rain?”
In 2021, it rained the entire season until harvest. This year after planting, the rains disappeared until after harvest began. Most fields saw clear, sunny days that were excellent growing conditions, but the lack of rainfall increased pumping cost due to high energy cost. Some fields of row rice in North Louisiana could not keep up with getting water on the fields, which resulted in some areas in the fields dying.
Disease and pest pressure were very low in the early crop. Many fields were able to skip the standard fungicide applications. After the good growing season when early harvest started, so did the rains. Later-planted rice fields saw disease incident and severity explode. The continued rains did not allow fungicide application or harvest of the maturing crop.
Many fields had severe lodging — slowing harvest and reducing yields. Other fields were harvested in the mud and at lower grain moisture than is desirable. Some fields had to delay harvest because roads were too wet to get trucks to the fields. Ratoon crop was negatively impacted leaving these fields with deep ruts and no chance to manipulate the straw for a uniform second crop. Many producers decided to have the fields go to crawfish instead of a ratoon crop.
The later crop also had lower yields than we observed in the early crop due to increased disease pressure from sheath blight and Cercospora. Both diseases also affected the ratoon crop, reducing the number of healthy culms returning for seed production.
We have also seen an increase in the number of stem borers in the second crop, but there are no current recommended controls or economic thresholds. Extremely high fertilizer prices also resulted in reduced rates of basic fertilizer in many fields. Producers are hoping for lower fertilizer prices next year.
The state average yield has not been determined, but it is expected to be slightly lower than the record yields we anticipated we would see after the high yields of the early crop. The ratoon crop in South Louisiana is well underway. While most of it looks okay, early yields may not give our overall yield a boost when all is said and done this year.
We continue to see increased crawfish production acres in South Louisiana. As rice-crawfish rotation continues to expand, more of the ratoon rice acres have gone into crawfish production instead of harvest.
With high fertilizer, energy and other input costs we are seeing now, I don’t think anyone knows what next year’s rice production in Louisiana will look like.