For Belzoni, Miss., rice producer Willard Jack, the first 75 percent of the 2002 harvest went exceptionally well. It took him two months to find out about the other 25 percent.
The story was the same for much of the Mid-South rice crop in 2002. In fact, after a while, Mississippi Extension rice specialist Joe Street had to stop talking about the percentage of rice remaining in the field and simply declared harvest as “finished.”
That might very well have described the condition of the unharvested rice crop at that time, too, although some producers were surprised at how well the late-harvested grain held up.
That included Jack. The yield and quality of that final quarter of his rice crop “was amazing considering what we went through,” said Jack, who was ready to harvest that portion of his crop on Sept. 20, but didn't get to it until Nov. 20.
Jack, who was interviewed during the recent USA Rice Outlook Conference in Little Rock, figures the harvest delay cost him about 15 percent of his yield. “But the milling yield was not that terrible. We were real surprised. When all was said and done, it still wasn't all that bad. It's no disaster.”
The producer says a growing season “that was not excessively hot, especially at night,” contributed to an excellent rice crop by September. “I think we've learned how to manage these new varieties and the new technologies.”
Due to low rice prices, Jack will likely decrease his rice and cotton acreage in 2003 and increase corn acreage. “A lot will depend on how prices stay between now and spring.”
Jack wasn't the only one at the conference talking about the role good weather played in Mid-South rice.
“We didn't have any of the extreme hot nights that typically will adversely affect rice yields,” said Tunica, Miss., rice producer Nolen Canon, who had an above-average crop. “We had a good start and got the rice crop planted on time. But the late harvest took its toll on some of that surplus production. It really ate into the yields and the quality of the crop.”
Canon was about halfway through with harvest when the bad weather hit. “We took a 5 to 10 percent reduction, but the biggest downside is the amount of fieldwork it's going to take next spring to get this crop ready to plant. It's going to take a lot of tillage to overcome the ruts created during harvest.”
Tommy Hoskyn, who raises about 3,000 acres of rice near Stuttgart, Ark., said his good rice yields were due to good varieties and good weather. “We just had a good year. Too bad it isn't worth anything.”
For rice prices to improve, “we're going to have to open some more markets,” Hoskyn said. “And we have to keep growing our domestic consumption.”
Corning, Ark., Eugene Bauschlicher also reported an excellent rice crop. “We have some heavy gumbo that Bengal does exceptionally well on. We have had some almost 200-bushel yields. You can't always depend on those kinds of yields. But sometimes you can attain it.”
Bauschlicher said “the Good Lord taking care of the weather” was the biggest factor contributing to good yields. “You can do all you can do, work with a county Extension agent and do better than a lot of people, but a fair amount of that is up to Him.”
Bauschlicher started farming rice in 1954 and now leases his 400 rice acres to his son, David. “In my opinion, he does an excellent job, but, of course, I may be prejudiced.”
As to how long farmers can survive with chronically low rice prices, Bauschlicher noted, “I don't know. That's one reason why I'm at this meeting. It's definitely not a good situation at the present time. I sure hope it gets better.”
Bauschlicher is optimistic that prices would turn around with new markets. “We need to get in a position to sell Cuba its rice. That really hurt us when we lost that market.”
Bay City, Texas, rice producer Joe Crane said good yields this year helped a rice industry desperate for some good news.
“As Texas has cut its acreage by 65 percent in the last six years, the only thing that's kept us in business is an incremental increase in yield. Our top producers are cutting 8,000 pounds to 10,000 pounds per acre.”
Increased yields are due to improvement in cultural practices, varieties, chemicals and new technology, according to Crane.
In 2002, Texas came close to breaking its record yield which was set the year before.
“We had a real good planting season,” Crane said. “We got the whole crop planted in five to six weeks, beginning the last week of February and finishing up the middle of April. You can't get any better than that. And year in and year out, early rice is the best rice.”
Harvest conditions were favorable for getting the first crop out of the field in a timely manner. “It was a fast harvest.”
The second harvest didn't fare as well, noted Crane. “The one advantage that Texas has left is its second crop,” the producer said. “But we had a lot of rain that came out of the two depressions that came in and hit our second crop at the wrong time.”