As July entered its third week, Louisiana rice farmers were draining fields and making preparations for harvest. “We're just beginning to cut rice in Vermilion Parish,” says John Saichuk, Extension rice specialist.

“Reports say yields are good but nothing to brag about yet. I've heard a couple of operations were harvesting around 40 barrels per acre.” A few years ago, Saichuk says, farmers would have been excited with that yield. “Now, they say, ‘I only made 40 barrels.’ That shows the fantastic improvements in rice varieties and technology over the years.”

In the southern part of the state, rice producers should be in heavy harvest at the end of July. The central and northern Louisiana rice crops are much further behind.

Arkansas rice “looks fairly decent,” says Chuck Wilson, the state's Extension rice specialist. “We need more sunshine. The last couple of weeks, we've had sunny skies and that needs to continue.”

Blast is widespread in Arkansas. In some areas it is severe. A cloudy, wet June allowed blast to become very active.

“Sheath blight has been aggressive all year. Many fields were sprayed earlier than normal, and by midseason farmers were firing up sprayers.

“We don't need more cloudy, rainy weather,” says Wilson. “We need more days of 95 degrees and sunshine.”

Louisiana's weather in mid-July has been “ungodly hot,” says Saichuk. “But that's a positive thing. Hot, dry weather at harvest will help us. I hope the rains have ended.”

Extended periods of rain through the growing season have “really hurt us. It threw us off schedule, and problems came from that.”

Accompanying the rain was cloud cover. “We couldn't get fungicides or herbicides out in a timely manner. Some producers missed the 2,4-D window. The weather interfered with efforts to drain fields to help control water weevils. It increased disease pressure and affected fertilizer timing on some farms.”

What remains to be seen is how the rains affected pollination. That can't be judged until harvest begins in earnest.

Much of Louisiana's northern rice is flowering. “We don't want high nighttime temperatures, but that's what we've had lately. Last night at my house, the temp was 88 degrees at 9 p.m. That's miserably hot but not unexpected — we have this transition when an extended rainy period ends suddenly.”

Disease pressure has been heavy, but Saichuk hopes dry weather will help bring problems — especially sheath blight — under control.

Farmers and researchers in Texas and Louisiana have had a little problem in the variety Cheniere. Saichuk and colleagues think it may be a bacterial disease. “Pathologists are working to identify it,” he says. “Most of the problem showed up late. It could be panicle blight or bacterial leaf blight. We're concerned about it, but most of us don't think it will have much of an effect on yield.”

Saichuk also is watching is Clearfield 161. “I'm curious about how will it shape up. We've got around 100,000 acres of it. Except for sheath blight, it looks good. And, by the way, sheath blight was expected. We told everyone that if they bought 161, they might as well order their fungicide at the same time. Sheath blight in 161 is almost a given.”

Regarding pests, Saichuk says scattered reports of sugarcane borers continue. “I just got a call from someone scouting rice in lower Tensas/upper Concordia Parish. He was picking up sugarcane borers. That isn't surprising up there where corn and milo are ripening. We may start picking up more of those borers in our rice.”

Stink bug populations have been rather light in Louisiana. In Arkansas, though, Wilson says concerns about the pest remain high. “Now, as the rice gets into heading, folks need to watch for stink bugs. In several fields, stink bug numbers were elevated even before heading. Last week I found four stink bugs on one plant — that's pretty high.”


e-mail: dbennett@primediabusiness.com