Planting will soon begin on the 2006 rice crop, and the Rice Research Verification Program (RRVP) is preparing for what will hopefully be a record year for its producers. Record input costs in 2005 have highlighted one of the program's goals, to keep input costs as low as possible, without sacrificing yield.
Since the introduction of the program in 1983, participating producers have typically averaged 20 bushels per acre over the state average while reducing input cost by about $50 per acre.
The yield increase can be attributed to intensive management of the fields. It involves applying herbicide, fertilizer and fungicide in a timely manner.
As the program enters its 24th growing season, reducing input costs while maintaining high yields has become extremely important. The average cost of production in the RRVP went from $260 per acre in 2004 to $431 per acre in 2005.
Irrigation and fertilizer costs combined increased production costs about $95 an acre in 2005, which makes their management increasingly significant.
Multiple-inlet irrigation has frequently reduced irrigation costs by 25 percent. This reduction in pumping saves about $13 an acre, based on 2005 prices.
Multiple-inlet irrigation also helps with nitrogen management by incorporating the fertilizer in the soil in a shorter amount of time. This results in less nitrogen loss than conventional flooding.
Research data has also shown that over time fields that were flooded using multiple-inlet irrigation had yields 5 percent greater than those using the conventional method. Increasing yields by 5 percent while decreasing costs by $13 are the type of management practices that must be implemented in today's commercial production.
The rising cost of herbicides has made flushing rice fields crucial for herbicide performance. Soil-applied herbicides must be activated quickly to achieve acceptable control.
Most alternative treatments for “cleaning up a field” after a herbicide failure cost around $30 an acre. There are no cheap alternatives in postemergence grass control.
Soil-applied herbicides usually don't provide season-long grass control; however, every year in the RRVP about 20 percent of the fields never receive a postemergence grass herbicide. With today's prices, the savings on that 20 percent could mean a lot.
When using soil-applied herbicides in your weed control program, flushing has to be included if enough rainfall isn't received, or you may be better off in a total postemergence program.
The 2006 RRVP will be conducted on 21 commercial fields in 20 counties across the state. The program has averaged 170 bushels per acre over the last four years. Yields have been consistent in the program and should continue to climb with the release of improved varieties.
The biggest challenge in 2006 will be looking for new management practices that may reduce production cost without sacrificing yields.
Jeff Branson is the Arkansas Extension Rice Verification Coordinator. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org