The markets weren't nice to Mid-South rice producers this year. But Mother Nature was. Thanks to generally good weather and rainfall, Mid-South growers harvested a bin-busting crop in 2001. Here's a state-by-state look.

Arkansas

Arkansas rice farmers produced record yields on the second-highest acreage (1.61 million acres) ever this year, according to Extension rice specialist Chuck Wilson.

“We're expecting to average about 6,200 pounds, which is 50 pounds more than the previous record yield (in 1996). High acreage with high yields is an unusual combination.”

Wilson said dry, warm weather early in April allowed growers to get rice planted about a week earlier than the five-year average. Good rice-growing weather followed.

“The downside is that the dry weather really affected the Command (herbicide) performance,” Wilson said. “We didn't get as good activity as we've seen in the past. The farmers who did get the rainfall or flushed their fields got better performance than those who didn't. So we learned that Command is a little more sensitive to moisture than we thought.”

Stinkbug populations in rice have increased steadily over the last few years, noted Wilson. “Last year, south Arkansas got hit pretty hard. This year, it progressed further north.

“Stinkbugs feed on the grain as it begins to mature,” noted Wilson. “You can't see stinkbug injury looking at rough rice. But when you mill it, there is a fungus that grows where they fed, or there is discoloration or weak spots.”

At least part of the problem may go back to lack of good grass control, according to Wilson. “Historically, if you have a grassy field or grassy borders you are going to have a stinkbug problem.

“Leaf blast was more of a problem than usual,” Wilson added. “We had almost 40 percent of the acreage in Wells and LaGrue, which are two susceptible varieties. On the other hand, we had very few reports of significant yield loss due to blast. It's been a very good year overall.”

Louisiana

Louisiana Extension rice specialist Johnny Saichuk says the state is expecting close to record yields. The state produced a record 5,561 pounds of rice per acre in 2000, which surpassed the previous record of 5,485 pounds in 1996.

“We're going to produce 5,400 to 5,600 pounds an acre,” Saichuk said. “Our early crop had real good yields and we had very good ratoon crop yields.”

Growers captured a second crop on 106,500 acres, around 20 percent of the state's 540,992 total acres. “It's one of the biggest ratoon crops we've had in a while.”

Saichuk noted that 98 percent of the state's rice acreage, 528,300 acres, were planted to long grain in 2001. Eighty-eight percent of the long grain acreage was split between Cypress and Cocodrie. Wells was third with 6.5 percent.

The specialist and others were expecting a higher percentage of Cocodrie this year, but apparently growers reduced acreage of the variety after it experienced some milling problems in 2000.

“The mills said it was difficult to get the bran off. We figured it was the result of crops drying down well below the recommended moisture level. A lot of farmers had a lot of land planted and just couldn't get to all of it quick enough.”

Rainfall was much more plentiful in 2001 than in 2000, noted Saichuk, in some cases, too much. “We had 10 to 12 straight days of rain from the end of August to the first part of September and that hurt us. That's the first time I have ever seen rice sprouting in the heads on standing rice. It was not down at all. This was perfect standing rice. We had some really dynamite crops out there that really took it on the chin.”

While in-field sprouting in rice wasn't nearly as widespread as it was in grain sorghum and cotton, it lowered yield expectations from certain record levels to near-record levels for the crop.

Stinkbugs continued to be a problem for Louisiana growers, “but we were able to manage the rice water weevil fairly well,” the specialist said. “Disease pressure was light on a lot of the early rice. It was not an expensive crop to grow. The worst part about is that it's not worth a whole lot.”

Missouri

The Missouri Bootheel produced close to record yields in 2001, according to Bruce Beck, Butler County Extension agent. “Farmers are happy. We planted a lot more Cocodrie this year, over 50 percent of our acreage.”

There were scattered problems with straighthead in Cocodrie, noted Beck. “We graded a lot of new acreage that may have been in cotton in the past, and treated with arsenical herbicides, which can contribute to straighthead.

“We had excellent weather for not having diseases. It took a lot of work keeping it irrigated. We did have more loose smut than in past years. But I think we're going to see that as a growing problem because we're growing more acres of rice.”

Mississippi

“It's going to be a record year for yield,” Mississippi Extension rice specialist Joe Street said. “Milling yield is holding up. The only problem we have is price.”

Behind the high yields — good weather. “We didn't have unusually high temperatures during flowering, which is critical for rice. The rains of late August caused some problems for some growers with lodged rice, but overall, it's going to be a good year for rice.”

Currently, USDA is projecting a yield of 6,500 pounds per acre for Mississippi on 250,000 acres. That's up about 14 percent over 2000. “It's very early to make any predictions on acreage for 2002, but based on what I'm hearing, I think acreage will go up a little next year.”

The specialist noted that while rice prices are low, “when you look at the alternatives, rice is a sure crop, yields generally don't vary that much.”


e-mail: erobinson@primediabusiness.com.