Some Arkansas farmers have nearly all of their rice acreage planted thanks to favorable weather, according to Brad Koen, rice agronomist with the Cooperative Extension Service, University of Arkansas.
“A little over a month ago, farmers felt like they were behind. We had a wet period, and they didn't get much ground work done in preparation for planting. Then, it turned dry, and everyone went hot and heavy working the ground.”
Now, many farmers are ahead of the game, Koen said. A lot of rice has been planted earlier than normal.
Farmers can begin planting rice about April 1, but, because of weather conditions, farmers normally don't start planting until April 15.
Koen said the farmers who are nearly through with planting will be able to harvest their rice before their soybeans mature, which helps them space out harvesting.
The dry weather, while helping planting, has hindered seed germination. Koen said farmers may need to flush, or run water across, fields. Flushing will also be needed to incorporate soil-applied herbicides.
Arkansas rice farmers planted about 1.4 million acres of rice last year, more than 40 percent of the nation's total rice acreage. Koen said the crop is predicted to be slightly smaller this year.
Rice prices are “a little low, similar to last year. Medium grain prices are expected to be quite low this year. We're expecting a reduction in medium grain acreage,” he said.
“Cocodrie is expected to be our largest planted variety. Last year, Drew was our largest variety in acreage. Cocodrie will replace a lot of Drew and Cypress. Wells should take the place of some of our LaGrue acreage.” Cocodrie, a semi-dwarf or short-stature plant, is preferred by many farmers outside the Arkansas Grand Prairie.
“In the past, our highest-yielding varieties have been weak in milling. Cocodrie has a potential for high yields and good milling quality. The downside is that it's straighthead sensitive. On lighter soils, you have the possibility of straighthead disease. For the majority of soils, however, it's a good fit.”
Meanwhile, the use of zinc seed treatment is “a really hot item” because it can save farmers money, Koen said. Zinc deficiencies in a field can cause stunted growth, yield reductions and even death of plants.
“I've had tons of phone calls from farmers and seed dealers about zinc seed treatment. It's the result of work that Nathan Slaton has done in the last few years and our recommendations.
“Zinc seed treatment is much cheaper than the zinc sources farmers have been applying to rice. It saves farmers about $10 an acre as opposed to making granular or foliar applications.”
In the past, the Extension service has recommended 10 pounds of zinc per acre even though the crop didn't need that much. Zinc is not very mobile in the soil. To get good coverage in a field, farmers needed to apply a large amount. By putting it on the seed, Koen said, “you're putting it right there where every plant needs it. So we go from 10 pounds an acre to about a 0.25 to 0.5 pound.”
Koen said that because of the high diesel prices and low rice prices, farmers are trying to cut expenses. He said stale seedbed and no-till are popular production practices to save expenses.
“In no-till and stale seedbed, a farmer can save from three to six trips across a field. That's money in the bank.”
Lamar James is an Extension communications specialist with the University of Arkansas.