The 2009 crop season is under way in the Mid-South with rice planting in Louisiana and corn planting in south Mississippi going full speed ahead — between the rains of course.

According to Louisiana Extension rice specialist Johnny Saichuk, rice planting was about 15 percent complete by mid-March. That’s at about the same pace as planting this time last year.

Saichuk said rice planting began the week of March 8, but rains later in week slowed things down. “They got back in the field around March 18 and haven’t slowed down. It’s rocking and rolling right now.”

More rain was expected in mid-March as this article was written. But Saichuk says the rains are needed “where we still have too much salt.” He said the biggest problem with salt has more to do with salty water than salty soils. “The storms pushed salt water in and the canals filled up. We haven’t had the freshwater from the backside to push it back out.”

Saichuk says he’s received more phone calls about planting medium grain rice “than any other single subject this spring. I’m telling growers if they can get a contract price locked in, go ahead and do it. There’s nothing magical about growing medium grain rice. It’s like growing long grain, but it’s not as good on second crop. If the price is right, it’s worth growing. But make sure you have a contract. There’s a good likelihood that the market will suddenly dry out.”

Saichuk said seed supplies of medium grain rice are currently exhausted. “We didn’t have a lot to begin with because our acreage has been so low in the past. Last year, a bunch of foundation medium grain seed went unsold and went to the mill because there was no market for it.”

Medium grain prices are contingent to a large extent on the Australian medium grain crop, which has been affected by drought. “Even though we don’t grow that type of the medium here, if California sells its rice to those markets, it creates a slot for our medium grain to move into.”

Early estimates indicated that Louisiana rice acres would be higher this season than last, but some of that depends on how many acres will not be planted due to salty conditions. The salt is affecting about 30,000 acres in Louisiana, according to Saichuk. “I think we’ll end up with around 450,000 acres total.”

Mississippi corn

Meanwhile, corn planting in Mississippi “is making good progress,” said Extension corn specialist Erick Larson. “We’ve had a couple of good windows, including one right now (week of March 22). “Quite a bit of corn has been planted in south Mississippi.”

The state is about 33 percent planted, which is significantly ahead of the normal pace. Cool and wet weather, however, has slowed corn emergence, which, according to Larson, is behind the five-year average. “We’ve had a couple of calls about bird damage on some of the early-planted corn. It’s coming up, but it’s been slow, and the longer it takes for the stand to establish, the more problems we can expect to have.”

Corn plantings are expected to decline “by somewhere around 20 percent” from last year in Mississippi, according to Larson, “but that could change considerably depending on planting conditions and how the markets are shifting during planting season.”

The acreage decline for corn is primarily due to a perceived lack of profitability for corn versus soybeans, notes Larson. “Fertilizer prices are lower now than what they were last fall, but in general, they’re higher than they were last spring. Commodity prices are down for most crops, including corn. So corn having high fertility requirements and expenses has made it less profitable.”

Larson says growers are asking about whether they should lower nitrogen rates to save money, “but they can greatly affect their efficiency or performance of their nitrogen through application timing and method.”

Larson recommends a split application method for applying nitrogen on corn. “Corn requires very little of the seasonal nitrogen during the early part of the season when it subject to high potential loss in wet, rainy conditions. Applying nitrogen in low amounts during the early part of the season is better than putting on most of it prior to when crop use kicks into high gear.”

Larson noted that growers are pricing several nitrogen sources this year, and are looking particularly at urea because it is more economical relative to the other sources. “But I don’t think it can be used exclusively for corn production because of some of the practical limitations it has as a source.”

Much of the corn acreage loss is expected to be replaced by full season soybeans. Lower wheat acres this season will add even more to full-season soybean plantings.

Tennessee

Farther north, Angela Thompson McClure, Extension corn and soybean specialist for Tennessee says a only a few acres of corn have been planted in the state. “We’re expecting acres to be down some from last year, and we’re expecting an increase in soybean acres, maybe as much as 100,000 acres.”

Thompson-McClure says corn producers are concerned about high nitrogen and are thinking about trimming back rates. She advises producers “to put nitrogen out as efficiently as possible, where the majority goes out as either as layby or sidedress application, especially on wet ground where they’re more likely to get loss.”

If growers are looking at liquid nitrogen such as UAN, “we recommend using an Agrotain-type product if it’s a surface-applied material and you’re not sure when the rains are going to come.”

Thompson-McClure says that if you’re planting soybeans in fields where you’ve had problems with resistant Palmer pigweed in 2008, “we’re recommending a good pre-emergence program.”

e-mail: erobinson@farmpress.com