On the first day of September, many Arkansas rice farmers are happily saying goodbye to an extremely wet August.
“We’re still doing assessments on the flooding in northeast Arkansas on how many acres have been impacted, how widespread the flooding has been and what the results will be,” says Jarrod Hardke, Arkansas Extension rice specialist.
“Just for rice in three counties – Lawrence, Randolph and western Clay – initial figures are about 20,000 that were underwater. Since then, more rainfall has hit that area and in Missouri. That rain in the north made its way down into the state, where conditions are already saturated and/or flooded.”
The Cache and White rivers have now been affected as that excess water moves down. “It’s fair to say nearly 40,000 acres of rice has been underwater with a large amount now in Craighead County. Now, those acres have been underwater for various lengths of time, of course. Some was under for only a couple of days, some is still under. That means there will be varying degrees of loss.
“A lot of the flooding makes the (cropland) look like lakes.”
Once rice acres are flooded out, unfortunately, “many things can contribute to losses. Rice growth stages are important when it goes underwater. Generally speaking, once (you remove the excess water off the rice) in seven days, or less, the crop will largely be fine. That doesn’t mean there won’t be damage or impact but usually the rice will remain standing and reach full development. There is potential for some stain.
“After a week underwater it gets to be a coin flip. After 10 days, it’s pretty much over. The water conditions are likely to go anaerobic and the plants will shut down. Pull the water off and the plants lay down and rot.”
Depending on the stage, those fields may be walkaways. “If it was dry and the crop was mature at the time of the flood, the grain may have been made and you can get something out of it. But that isn’t always the case.
“Everyone knows the later into the year we go, the more likelihood of bad weather. We’re already seven to 10 days behind on harvest, whether you’re worried about flooding, or not.”
While producers are anxious to harvest, “you can only do so much scrambling when the ground is so wet. It’s very hard to get into the field and get the crop out. Some guys are trying to pick up speed on damp ground. That means tracking more mud than they’d like and those ruts in fields will have to be fixed, sometimes at great expense.”
That leads into the sprouting issue. Thankfully, the problem has slowed in recent days. “We’ve gotten out of the pattern that is conducive to sprouting. A few sunny days will dry the canopy out.
“The worst flooding is where the sprouting began. Depending on your area of the state, and how much rainfall was received over that very wet week, or so, really determines sprouting from there. Every field is a snapshot in time.
“This sprouting isn’t cultivar-specific, or anything. Whatever fields were more mature when the rains fell and conditions were right now have more sprouting. Because hybrids are usually a bit earlier maturing, there is a bit more sprouting being seen in those fields. But that isn’t due to hybrids being more prone to sprouting – it’s simply because the plants had more mature grains.”
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What about the potential cost of damages?
“That’s part of the problem with trying to put a figure on the sprouting. One fair criticism I received from a guy – and he’s right – is that the photos we tend to see with these stories are more sensational. It isn’t that the level of sprouting depicted in a picture is all that common in the field. But if you want to emphasize a problem using a picture, a plant with bad sprouting does a better job of showing what we’re talking about. Small sprouts on grains actually don’t show up in pictures that well.
“In the field, though, it’s more common to see a couple of kernels per head with small sprouts. Because the state’s rice production area is so broad north to south, some fields didn’t catch the huge rains on consecutive days. Some of the sprouting is so minimal it’s barely a blip – but it is everywhere.
“Anyway, fields with a small amount of sprouting are a fairly minimal concern although milling will be affected. The milling will probably take a small hit because the kernels will tend to break up a bit more.”
Where the sprouting is bad, “it’ll cause drastic problems in milling. That will drop the price for producers and they’ll get knocked heavily. But those cases will be more an exception than the rule.
“Hopefully, we’ll continue the run of dry days we seem to be settling into and get harvest behind us. I’m not worried about a lot more sprouting, knock on wood. But it only takes two or three days of warm temperatures with consistently rainy, overcast conditions and it can happen again.”
Hardke provides some historical context to the conditions in August. “Usually, we get to September and the high temperatures drop and put a stop to the sprouting worries. This has been an uncommon occurrence. The best I can tell, the late 1970s were the last time anything remotely like the conditions we’re seeing happened with sprouting.
“We keep planting earlier maturing cultivars and also plant early. This year was about the third fastest planting season we’ve ever had in the state. You’d think that would put the crop outside the possibility for sprouting. But we don’t usually see rains like this in August.
“This has been kind of a near perfect storm for rice. However, things would have been worse if this had happened a week later when a larger percentage of the crop was mature. I’ll take that small victory right now.”