Mid-South outlook: Rice crop showing promise

Combines are beginning to roll through Mid-South rice fields and early yield returns are encouraging to the area's farmers faced with squeezing a profit out of depressed market prices.

Leading the charge are southwest Louisiana rice growers, who are expected to reach the 50 percent harvested mark by about Aug. 15. Harvesting in the northeast region of the state will likely begin by about the third week of August.

Early harvest reports from southwest Louisiana suggest that yields are averaging about 6,500 pounds (144 bushels) per acre, with some varieties producing higher yields.

Louisiana rice specialist Johnny Saichuk in Crowley, La., says, “It's looking pretty good right now. Our yields so far in the southwestern part of the state are, for the most part, ranging from the upper 30s to the lower 40s, with a few 50-barrel yields being reported.”

Converting barrels to pounds and bushels per acre, south Louisiana rice farmers are producing early yields from 137 bushels (6,156 pounds) per acre to 180 bushels (8,100 pounds) per acre.

Saichuk says the highest yields being reported at this point are coming from those farmers producing Wells and then Cocodrie, respectively. “We've got a limited acreage in Wells, and so far we are seeing very high yields in that variety. I've heard reports of yields from the Wells variety in excess of 8,000 pounds per acre. Cocodrie is also yielding very well, with yields running about 400 or 500 pounds less per acre than Wells,” he says.

Despite the success of new rice varieties such as Cocodrie and Wells, Saichuk says, planting a new variety is not always a smooth ride the first year. “We're finding out that we still need to work the bugs out of the Clearfield system,” Saichuk says. “We've had a few problems with the Clearfield technology this year, and we've got a little more red rice out there than we'd like to see. Overall, it was a good thing it was only available on a limited acreage this first year, because if we don't work the bugs out of the system we'll have a real mess on our hands.”

In addition to the promise of increased production levels, the earliness of the 2001 rice crop is renewing interest in double-cropping among southern Louisiana rice growers. “Our ratoon crop in southwest Louisiana, which at one time exceeded 50 percent of the total rice acreage, has dropped to only 20 to 30 percent in the past few years,” Saichuk says.

The decrease in double-cropping, he says, was due to low rice prices and red rice infestations. “We're now doing a little better job using pinpoint flooding to better control red rice. Although prices sure aren't any better, farmers are trying to get the most quantity from their acreage possible. The earliness of this first harvest plays a major role in insuring that there will be time to get that second crop in and harvested.”

Disease pressure throughout the growing season has been moderate to light in Louisiana, according to Saichuk. However, stinkbug pressure has remained high in northeast Louisiana throughout the season.

“Growers in north Louisiana have treated once on average for stinkbugs, but some growers are still spraying for stinkbugs, and some areas have been sprayed as much as three times,” he says. “It looked like stinkbug populations were also building in the southern portion of the state, but Hurricane Allison came in and the pressure dropped.”

Recent Louisiana State University studies, he says, have disproved the theory that stinkbug populations are becoming resistant to insecticide treatments. “We are just getting re-infestations of this insect throughout the season. Rice stinkbug populations are moving out of other crops that are drying up, like corn and grain sorghum, and are moving into rice fields.”

In Mississippi, Joe Street, Extension rice specialist at Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville, Miss., says, Mississippi rice fields were about 75 percent headed as of Aug. 6. “We're just beginning to drain for harvest and we should start harvesting some by the Aug. 10 and be heavy into harvest by Aug. 20.”

Overall, the state's crop is maturing about one week earlier than normal, and expectations are for an average to above-average crop. “The crop looks good other than being a little more grassy than normal,” he says. “The cooler nights and 95-degree (or less) days have been almost ideal for rice production.”

Recent weather conditions also played a part in disease pressure. “Sheath blight starting moving into the rice crop a little over the last couple of weeks, but the crop was mature enough that we won't have a problem with it in most cases. Blast never really developed. Smut may be more of a problem this year with current weather patterns, but with the heavy use of Tilt we've seen that may not be a problem either,” Street says.

Arkansas' rice farmers are also looking forward to a successful 2001 rice harvest. Most of the state were expected to begin harvesting rice by about Aug. 15.

“We're at the starting line and getting ready to kick off,” says rice consultant Ronnie Helms of Stuttgart, Ark.

Helms agrees that the recent lack of temperature extremes and the lower nighttime temperatures set the area up for an above-acreage rice crop. “We've had some disease pressure and more grass escapes than we've had in the past few years, but overall the outlook is good. I think we have a good rice yield potential in Arkansas,” he says.

Helms attributes the higher-than-usual number of barnyardgrass escapes to some management problems related to the use of the herbicide Command. “Growers in most areas didn't get enough water on the crop to keep Command activated. As a result, we had escapes of barnyardgrass and sprangletop.”

The grass escapes may also have had an effect on stinkbug populations. “The barnyardgrass is generally where the stinkbugs are, and those escapes enabled the stinkbugs to move into the rice crop. Overall, stinkbug pressure was moderate to heavy in pockets across the state with some growers avoiding any treatments and some growers spaying twice for stinkbugs,” Helms says.

“This is going to be our earliest rice crop ever,” says Brad Koen, area Extension agronomist in Stuttgart, Ark. “The extended dry period in late March and early April allowed our farmers from the Louisiana line to the Missouri border to get in the field and get planted. And then, the weather conditions remained right to get a good early stand of these new earlier-maturing varieties.”

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