Historically high corn and soybean prices pushed Mississippi farmers Bubba and Doug Simmons to make significant adjustments in their crop mix this season. But they’re still keeping rice prominently in the picture.
Bubba and his father, Doug, farm 1,000 acres of rice, 1,000 acres of corn and 3,400 acres of soybeans around Arcola, Miss. Their crop mix usually includes about 700 more acres of rice. But higher corn and soybean prices have forced some changes.
“The price of rice is not super bad,” Bubba said. “It’s just not up there with the prices of other commodities. There was a time when we thought $6.50 rice was pretty good. But we were comparing it to $6 soybeans. Now you have that same $6.50 rice price and the price of soybeans has been near $16.”
The only way for rice to stay in the mix for the Simmonses is for it to produce more bushels, and that’s been possible with hybrid rice, Bubba says. “If you can make 200 bushels of hybrid rice at $6.50, it compares with 180-bushel corn and 65-bushel soybeans. Rice still has a fit. But without hybrid rice, we would have to look long and hard at our decision to grow rice.”
Rice also has value in the Simmonses’ crop mix because it provides another mode of action for managing resistant weeds, which have become a serious problem on the farm.
About 700 acres of the Simmonses’ rice acres is planted in hybrids. The 300 acres planted in varietal rice was planted primarily “to hedge against whatever might happen,” Bubba said.
Economics aside, the Simmonses “would rather grow about 2,000 acres of rice. That’s how much we were growing when rice prices were good, and other commodity prices were lower,” Doug said.
While the Simmonses rice crop this year was not a bin buster, it was respectable and the earliest crop that either Doug or Bubba could recall. Both their corn and rice crops were out of the field by August 24, and the soybean crop was about a third harvested by August 31.
“I wouldn’t say that this was an easy rice growing season, but nothing bad really sticks out in my mind,” Bubba said. “It was an early season. We planted early. And that led to an early harvest. Insects were not a problem this year. Disease and this particular area was not a problem. All our herbicides seemed to work well.”
After harvest of the soybean crop in the fall, the Simmonses disk and prepare a smooth seedbed. They apply a burndown herbicide with a residual in late January. Depending on weed pressure, they may burndown once more prior to planting, or behind the drill.
The Simmonses precision level their fields and construct pads around every rice field with drop pipes to eliminate erosion. “Water is also something to think about for the future,” Bubba said. “Rice farmers have probably been the best conservationists in the past, as far as what they do for the environment. But rice can also be an easy target for water use. That’s something to consider.”
The Simmonses planted one varietal rice, Rex, which is in its second year of release from Mississippi State University, and one hybrid rice, CL XL 745, with a Great Plains drill. On stewardship of the Clearfield technology, Bubba noted, “We don’t have many problems rotating two years of soybeans with a year of Clearfield rice.”
At the same time they drill rice, they survey fields to upload GPS information for the construction of levees. All tractors are equipped with RTK guidance.
Typically, Command pre-emerge is a big part of the Simmonses’ weed control program, although in some years, there can be some bleaching in hybrid rice.
On their Clearfield hybrid this year, they made one post application of Newpath and followed that with an application of Clearpath prior to flood. “This year we did not have to come back with any post-flood grass herbicides,” Bubba said.
Weed control in varietal rice depends on the weed spectrum. “This year we had a good growing season, the herbicides worked real well, pre-emerge herbicides worked real well. We just had one pre-flood herbicide application.”
All acres were treated one time for stink bugs and with a fungicide applied as a preventative. “You might be able to get by with using no fungicide on the hybrids,” Bubba said. “But you certainly can spend fewer dollars on them. We ended up using 4 ounces of PropiMax on the hybrid versus 14 ounces of Stratego on our Rex. That’s $12 an acre less on the hybrids. That, plus your reduced nitrogen on hybrids helps offset some of the higher seed costs with hybrids.”
The Simmonses say that the higher seed costs do purchase a couple of extra eyes and ears in the field. “It’s not all in the seed cost,” Bubba noted. “I’m getting a lot of customer service from RiceTec for that too. RiceTec has also supported the Extension Service and local experiment station. And they were sponsors for the rice field day in Mississippi this year.”
Low levels in the Mississippi River this season had not affected the Simmonses’ harvest significantly by the end of August. “We’ve had to store a few soybeans,” Bubba said. “About the only other thing that we’ve seen is that corn has a high basis. It’s at about 70 cents right now. Soybeans are even, whereas two months ago, they were 25 cents over. I think that’s where we are seeing it.”
The Simmonses are just as concerned about supplies moving up the river to the farm. “They’ve rationed some of these fuel suppliers to four loads per day. We’ve ordered some diesel and had it delivered even though we really didn’t need it at the time,” Bubba said.
The Simmonses harvest with Case IH 8120s, storing some rice on farm, and some delivered green to Producers Rice Mill, which also markets the Simmonses’ rice.
The Simmonses would like higher rice prices, and see the export market as a key. U.S. rice exports were raised significantly in September by USDA, to 100 million hundredweight, an increase of 8 million hundredweight over August. But it’s still down 13 million hundredweight from 2010-11.
“We just don’t have the export market for rice that we used to have,” Doug said. “It seems like all of the people that used to buy our rice aren’t actively buying as much these days.”
“I don’t think we’ve completely recovered from the GMO situation, (where traces of GMO were found in exported rice) a few years ago,” Bubba said. “Then you have India exporting rice when they normally don’t. The quality of the 2010 crop has hurt our markets, too. That wasn’t about hybrid quality versus varietal quality. That was all rice.”
There’s only so much a rice producer can do about quality, Bubba said. “When rice leaves our farm, it’s in its rough form. I understand quality is a lot more than just milling yields. But we’re paid on milling yields and bushels. We haven’t seen any reduction in quality from that standpoint. In fact, last year hybrid rice was our best miller, and this year, it compared favorably to varietal rice. So we don’t see quality as an issue here.”