Mississippi’s rice may be on track for another strong yield, but it will be on fewer acres.

Nathan Buehring, rice specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said the 2007 crop has “good to excellent yield potential” as it enters the heading stage.

“This year, everything has worked like a charm,” Buehring said. “The crop has had good moisture levels to help herbicides work and stay activated. By the time we reached the dry period, it was time for flooding the fields.”

Mississippi growers planted 175,000 acres of rice this year, down 15,000 acres from last year, but significantly fewer than in 2005 when they planted 265,000 acres. Last year, growers harvested a record average yield of 7,000 pounds per acre, just above the previous five-year average of 6,620 pounds.

Buehring said several factors have impacted rice plantings. “Corn’s popularity took some of our acres, and soybean prices have been good,” he said. “In some cases, growers were not able to get the rice varieties they wanted, so those acres went to soybeans.”

Buehring said there are some areas where sheath blight pressure has been a little higher than normal. While growers have access to effective fungicides, the additional treatments will cause growers to spend more on this crop than in the past.

“This will probably be one of the most expensive crops we have ever had. That seems to be the case every year,” the rice specialist said.

Steve Martin, agricultural economist at MSU’s Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville, Miss., said the rice production costs at this point have been similar to last year. Although some growers may have had to spend more on fungicides this year, water costs have not been as high as in 2006.

“By the time the year is over, fuel prices will drive production costs higher,” Martin said.

Unfortunately, rice prices have not offered much relief.

“This year has been a disappointing year in the rice market. We have the potential for increased prices in the future, but it looked good a year ago, too,” Martin said. “There have been some export problems related to GMO (genetically modified crops) issues and also larger carryover stocks. Last month, Europe indicated a willingness to accept some GMO crops, but that hasn’t materialized yet.”

Martin said the high prices of soybeans and other crops may eventually help the rice prices.

“The primary factors that will impact prices will be fall harvest levels, foreign market acceptance and the relative prices of competing crops,” he said.

e-mail: agcommnews@ext.msstate.edu