Reduced inputs and lower seeding rates fit Bootheel operation
By Carroll Smith
Every rice-growing region, farm and field is different, and it’s up to individual farmers to decide what works best for their operations. In the Missouri Bootheel, Don Worley and his two sons, Curtis and Jake, have found that hybrid rice yields a little higher for them than varietal rice, especially on the lighter soils that are common in the Poplar Bluff area.
“When I was 15 years old, I bought my first 80 acres and started farming a total of about 400 acres in 1960,” Don says. “From there, I have gradually built up the operation to what it is now.”
Today, the Worleys grow rice and soybeans, although rice wasn’t a part of the mix until 1978 – a few years after the government allotment was lifted in Arkansas. In looking back to his early rice-growing years, Don remembers that there was very little graded ground then. Instead, there seemed to be levees on top of levees.
“Almost all of our ground is laser-leveled now, which works well with our rice and soybean rotation,” he says.
Seeding Rates Vary
As for their rice operation, the Worleys plant 1,650 acres of hybrids – XP753, Clearfield XL745 and Clearfield XL729 – and 240 acres of CL151.
“The hybrids have a great disease package,” Curtis says. “We don’t have to scout them as much as we do our varieties. We usually average 180 bushels per acre with our hybrids and 140 to 150 bushels per acre with our varieties. We see the greatest yield spread between hybrids and varieties on the lighter type soil.”
Curtis also notes that on average over the last six years, they have realized about $100 an acre more with hybrids because of the yields and the disease packages and are pleased with the improved straw strength on the hybrids that they plant. The Worleys agree that Clearfield rice has done a good job of cleaning up their red rice problems, allowing them to rotate with soybeans every other year, which is a good stewardship practice to help preserve the technology.
Seeding rates also vary for the Worley operation. They plant the hybrids at 20 pounds per acre and CL151 at 65 to 70 pounds per acre compared to 80 to 90 pounds per acre for varieties such as Wells and Francis.
“We’re able to use such low seeding rates with the hybrids because they tiller real well,” Curtis says.
Reduced Input Costs
The Worleys say they have been able to improve their bottom line by growing hybrids because they have been able to reduce some of the inputs typically associated with growing rice. “Because of the disease packages, we don’t have any fungicide costs on the hybrids,” Curtis says. “For the past few years with hotter summers and warmer nighttime temperatures, bacterial panicle blight started showing up in the varieties. The rice didn’t have a chance to cool off, which provided the perfect environment for that fungus. The 2010 season was really bad. With the hybrids, we didn’t have a problem with bacterial panicle blight. It didn’t show up.”
The Worleys also were able to cut back on the amount of nitrogen (N) they applied on the hybrids, which, given the high price of N, meant significant savings there.
“We put out 135 actual units on the hybrids and 150 actual units on the varieties,” Don says. “We are in a better position now in regard to N applications than we were with some of the older varieties where the recommendation might be as much as 180 actual units of nitrogen.”
Method Of Irrigating
All of the water, excluding rainfall, for rice and soybeans on this Missouri farm comes from wells as opposed to pivots. The Worleys have 56 wells that are 115 to 125 feet deep.
“We are lucky to have one of the biggest aquifers in the area, which provides a good supply of underground water,” Don says. “We have both electric and diesel/propane wells. We prefer the electric wells, but, in some cases, it’s not feasible to run electricity to them. The electric wells are more expensive to operate, but they are a lot more convenient.”
In the marketing arena, the Worleys do most of their business with Riceland Foods, Inc.
“At this time, Riceland doesn’t segregate hybrid and conventional rice, and they don’t discount hybrid rice either,” Curtis says.
When asked how they split up the responsibilities among the family members on the farm, Don says, “Curtis is the rice man, and Jake does the planting.” The two sons smiled and, in unison, quickly spoke up saying, “And he’s the boss.”
The Worley operation has grown and evolved since Don bought that first 80 acres in 1960. The ground has been leveled, the wells dug, the rice production system fine-tuned, and his two sons work by his side every day. If you’re into farming rice, the Missouri Bootheel is a good place to be, and the hybrids continue to thrive on its signature fertile soils.
Contact Carroll Smith at (901) 767-4020 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Worley Family Works Together, Plays Together In ‘Hot Farm Tractor’ Class
Not only do brothers Curtis and Jake Worley enjoy operating big machinery to complete the day-to-day tasks on their Missouri farm, their penchant for iron carries over into their recreational time, too. In fact, they compete as a team in the “Hot Farm Tractor” class in tractor pulling, or power pulling, which is a popular motorsport competition.
The machines that compete in this class are considered “high-performance modified” rather than stock tractors.
“You start with a basic tractor chassis and a stock motor that you have bored out to where you can run a bigger cubic inch engine, according to the class you are going into,” Jake says. “Then you can add things like an aftermarket injection pump and an aftermarket turbo to help turn the tractor into a high-performance machine.
“I once had an 1155 Massey Ferguson,” he adds. “I drove it for a while, then sold it and bought an International. Curtis runs a 2805 Massey that originally had 150 hp, but after being modified, it was up to 2,000 hp.”
Tractor pulling requires that contestants pull a heavy sled with a weight on top of it that moves forward as the sled is pulled down the track. This motion creates resistance, so the further along the tractor goes, the harder it becomes to pull the sled. The tractor that pulls the sled the farthest is the winner.
“We also have to follow certain safety guidelines,” Curtis says. “For example, we have to wear fireproof suits and regulation helmets. Three roll bars surround the driver to protect him in case the tractor tips over.”
Although Jake and Curtis may work hard on the farm, they admit they play just as hard on the track. If you happen to catch one of these events in the future, keep an eye out for Red Revolution and Red Addiction, or Curtis and Jake as they are known around town.