Push rice varieties hard, Arkansas grower says

For the past several years, yields and milling quality have increased steadily on Mitch Miller's rice operation near DeWitt, Ark. He attributes these gains to production adjustments, such as applying nitrogen earlier and planting high-yield potential varieties.

“The newer varieties grow earlier and mature quicker, so you have to push them hard,” Miller explains. “When our rice emerges, we push it by either fertilizing or irrigating it right away, which is also a good way to avoid weeds and grasses. At fourth or fifth leaf, we apply 100 pounds of nitrogen and flush the field with a shallow flood for a few days. Then we pull it, let the ground dry and come back with 250 pounds of nitrogen and flood up for the year.”

Miller, who has been farming rice since 1979, plants early-maturing varieties, including Francis, Cheniere and Cocodrie. Last season, he also planted Clearfield CL161 on one farm and new CL131 on another. “These Clearfield varieties, which are tolerant to Newpath herbicide, performed extremely well,” he says. “CL131 averaged 203 bushels dry per acre, which is right up there with our conventional rice, and CL161 averaged 198 bushels dry. In addition to making high yields, both CL131 and CL161 had good milling quality.”

Miller averaged about 200 bushels dry on all his varieties in 2005. His down rice averaged about half of that after Hurricane Katrina. “We had a pretty crop and cut about 300 acres before the hurricane winds came through and really worked on all of it — except for CL131,” he says. “CL131 was planted later and did not lodge.”

Mitch planted CL131 on two fields comprising a 450-acre seed farm that is red rice-free. However, Newpath cleaned the two fields of other grasses. He tank-mixed Newpath and propanil for broader weed control. “We planted CL161 on another farm that had some red rice which was threatening to be a problem in a few years and Newpath cleaned up the red rice perfectly,” he says.

Miller made two Newpath herbicide applications during the season. He first sprayed after the fourth and fifth leaf and sprayed again just prior to permanent flood. He used 2,4-D for his broadleaves and propanil for barnyardgrass.

“These Clearfield varieties are really good for us,” he says. “We can rotate them with Roundup Ready beans. We rotate two years beans and one year rice, which really keeps our fields clean.

“CL131 worked very well for us. I had mixed emotions about the new variety and was a little nervous at first using it. However, it yielded great and we had excellent weed control.”

Miller intentionally planted CL131 on April 20 when ground temperatures were warmer. “We planted this seed rice later in the season so that when the ground would warm up, CL131 would emerge quicker and more even,” he explains. “We had excellent emergence.”

Miller's seeding rate for his CL131 rice was 34 pounds on one field and 17 pounds on the other. The field planted at 17 pounds yielded only 3 bushels less than the one planted at 34 pounds per acre. “Our normal seeding rate is 90 pounds,” he says. “It seems every year we cut back more on our seeding rate. We planted CL161 at 2.5 bushels per acre.”

Miller did not have smut problems on his CL131. Sheath blight was as common on his CL131 as it was with his other varieties. “At flag leaf, we apply Quilt to keep our diseases down and it works very well for us,” he says. “We've penciled in a fungicide application as part of our production budget. It pays.”

Miller is able to irrigate his entire farm using reservoir water for the first couple of waterings. He uses surface water from four reservoirs encompassing 125 acres on one farm, and two reservoirs on 100 acres on the other farm. He also relifts water from a nearby creek, and catches water as it runs off his fields.

“We have plenty of well water — our wells run only 160 feet deep — but relifting surface water costs one-third in diesel of what it costs to pump well water,” he says. “Additionally, surface water doesn't stunt rice growth like colder well water does.

“We also plan to switch from diesel pumps to electric pumps. When you run several diesel pumps that burn 5 to 6 gallons per hour, 24 hours a day, $3-a-gallon diesel adds up quickly.”

Miller normally farms about 1,300 acres of rice, which takes him about two and half weeks to plant with a John Deere 455 drill, and about three or four weeks to cut with his John Deere 9760 combine. He also farms about 2,100 acres of soybeans and 600 acres of wheat.

This Arkansas grower can store all of his rice in 250,000-bushel on-farm storage facilities. “Having that much storage capacity really gives us more flexibility in our rice marketing strategies,” he adds.

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