For much of Arkansas' rice crop, it's been a difficult year. In mid-September persistent rains continued, hampering harvest and flooding low-lying fields. This comes on the heels of an excessively wet growing season, late plantings and problematic diseases.

The late-season conditions are exactly what University of Arkansas Extension specialists worried about at the Cache River Valley field day in mid-August. Also on the agenda: up-and-coming rice varieties and the disease situation in the state.

“All this rain is hard to believe,” says Rick Cartwright, Extension plant pathologist. “We can't seem to get past it.”

The LSU breeding program's medium-grain Neptune variety has been introduced into Arkansas. “It's scattered around the state this year,” says Cartwright. “From what we've observed, it has the larger kernel size some markets are looking for.”

Even in a year like this — “when blast has been rather damaging under such wet conditions — Neptune's blast resistance held up better than Jupiter, which is on a lot of acres. Neptune also looks good on sheath blight.”

Unfortunately, it turns out Neptune isn't resistant to bacterial panicle blight.

“That's the main problem we were worried about in the medium-grains. So, Neptune will be kind of like Bengal on that. Otherwise, though, Neptune is a good-looking variety.”

Horizon Ag has introduced Clearfield 261, the first Clearfield medium-grain to come on the market. It will be available starting in 2010.

“We have a strip plot of it at a test site, a few miles south of Cash, Ark. It will likely have some of the same problems as Bengal, however, its appearance is somewhat more erect and the panicles have been really clean-looking in our plot. It has tillered aggressively and appears to have high yield potential at our location.

“The big thing with it, of course, is that it has the Clearfield technology and allows for the control of red rice. That's great for the biggest medium-grain production areas of Arkansas — Craighead County, Poinsett County, Jackson County, Lawrence County and Cross County.”

Taggart is a new long-grain variety from the University of Arkansas. “It's a good-tasting rice with a large kernel. It'll be targeted towards some of the Middle Eastern markets that prefer the large, bold, long-grain Southern rice.”

Taggart has “good yield potential, a moderate disease package — kind of like Wells, although it's a bit taller and later — and looks good in the field.”

Templeton is another variety released by the University of Arkansas breeding program. It was released because “it has outstanding resistance to all the strains of the blast fungus in the state. We need it on some fields — after this year, especially — where there are routine blast problems and we can't water the rice properly.

“Under pivot irrigation or other non-flooded systems, this would be a better choice. It has very good yield potential, similar to Wells.”

Karen Moldenhauer, University of Arkansas rice breeder, “has a bunch of Clearfield lines,” says Cartwright. “Two have been released in the past year.”

Clearfield 142 is “a taller, long-grain, very similar to Wells in some respects. As for diseases, there are no huge red flags — it can be managed pretty easily. It's a good-looking variety in some of the seed-production fields in the north of the state.”

Clearfield 181 is a semi-dwarf, long-grain variety. “The main problem in it so far is sheath blight. However, it has high yield potential and good milling qualities. It'll be available for growers in 2010.”

Horizon Ag has also introduced Clearfield 111. It's “an aggressive, semi-dwarf, long-grain from the LSU breeding program. I've heard it reminds some folks of Trenasse, another LSU variety released a few years ago. It does have sheath blight susceptibility and growers will have to spray it — no other big problems I've seen with it.”

Compared to years past, 2009 was a moderate year for sheath blight in Arkansas. That could be due to the cooler temperatures. “It was still in the fields, though, and we had to spray for it.”

Cartwright says there are three diseases that especially dogged rice in the state.

Blast has been an issue on fields with marginal water management — “furrow-irrigated and pivot rice, places where it's difficult to maintain a deep flood. Blast is always an issue in such fields.

“Calls we've received on blast — and the majority are on fields where farmers can't maintain a deep flood — are mostly on a handful of varieties. Clearfield 151, a high-yielding, semi-dwarf long-grain was hit in some areas. Francis had to be sprayed, as well. And there was blast damage to some fields of Wells, especially where they couldn't be watered properly. Jupiter, a medium-grain, has proven to be more susceptible to blast than we originally thought.”

Put the problem in perspective, though, says Cartwright. “Blast-affected fields are not a major percentage of the state's crop. Maybe 5 percent, or less, is severely damaged. But the fields that got hammered really took a serious blow. There will be farmers struggling to stay in business because they had several fields that got nailed with blast. In these weather conditions, blast can take you out.”

“False smut is a disease we see most years but especially in a late crop, which we have again. The crop is so late this could be the worst year for false smut we've experienced since 1998.”

Between trying to spoon-feed the rice because of wet conditions early — “and getting a lot of nitrogen in play stimulates the disease” — and having late planting dates, the state was set up for false smut.

To manage the disease, “besides cutting back on nitrogen we use fungicides to suppress it. Under current conditions, it appears a minimum of 6 fluid ounces of Tilt or an equivalent fungicide needs to be applied as early as possible in the booting stages. That approach isn't perfect but seems better than nothing. We are trying even higher rates of Quilt and Stratego plus Tilt (or equivalent) to see if these work any better.”

Rice hybrids, “which have the best disease resistance of the rice varieties, are susceptible to false smut. The weather has certainly contributed to the disease.”

Bacterial panicle blight has mostly caused problems in the Arkansas Prairie region. “It's been tough in some areas. With all the rain — even though it hasn't been hot and humid — the disease has shown up in Bengal and even some of the long-grains. It gets splashed around and causes damage.

“It's just been an odd year. It seemed to be raining every time you turned around.

“I've told farmers so many times, ‘If you're ever going to use fungicides, this is the year.’ With the exception of treating for sheath blight, most years we can get away without using fungicides. Not this year.”

This year shows why variety selection is so important. “Don't pick a variety just based on highest yield potential. Yield potential can be misleading; think about yield potential under your conditions — your problems. If you've got fields you can't water effectively, Francis or Jupiter or CL 151 are not the varieties to choose. Blast can make these into 50-bushel rice varieties.”

And proper variety selection applies to all crops. “Of all things, we've looked at soybean fields destroyed by stem canker. That's so unnecessary — there are great, high-yielding resistant varieties to stem canker.

“Many Midwest varieties are susceptible to stem canker and when they're planted in the Mid-South in years like this, watch out — you could end up with a 10-bushel soybean crop. In my opinion, we should not be planting soybean varieties susceptible to stem canker in this state.”