It takes plenty of patience to produce rice on Mid-South buckshot soils, says Avon, Miss., farmer Marvin Cochran. That patience was put to the test this growing season.
Cochran farms rice, soybeans and wheat on Ravin Planting Co., just off Hwy. 1 in Washington County, Miss., with the help of six others. He plants two-thirds of his acreage in CL 151 and CL XL745 and the remainder in Sabine, a specialty rice he produces for Uncle Ben’s.
To start the season, Cochran will usually make two trips in the fall with a field cultivator to smooth out old beds. “We turn it over to Mother Nature and let the winter mellow it out. We burn it down in February with Roundup and 2,4-D, and a residual type chemical. For the residual, sometimes we go with FirstShot, sometimes we go with Valor, depending on the time of year.”
He’ll burn down a second time in April, with Roundup, plant rice around the end of March to the first of April and pull levees. “Depending on whether it’s Clearfield or conventional, we put out pre-emerge herbicides, Command, Newpath and Clearpath. Then we go to flood.”
Cochran will make two more applications of Newpath on Clearfield rice to finish out the season.
Command is also put down on Sabine, followed by Clincher, Regiment, Ricestar or Stam. “We don’t lock into any one chemical. We try to stay within our budget and use what we need.”
Red rice has become a big problem on the farm, one reason why they’ve gone to Clearfield rice. “We started getting red rice in the 1980s, and it just kept spreading and spreading. We just about have it cleared up with Clearfield.
“Now some of the barnyardgrass and winter ryegrass is getting harder and harder to kill. We’re starting to see more sprangletop than we’re accustomed to, and we’re seeing more sedges in the no-till and limited till.”
Cochran says the Clearfield system is contributing to a cleaner soybean crop the following year. “We’re not needing as much weed control in soybeans after Clearfield. The Newpath is holding down some of the winter annuals. With the price of seed technology, conventional soybean seed may have a place behind Clearfield rice fields because of the reduced weed pressure the following year. Seed costs (for biotech seed) are getting out of control.”
Cochran puts out about 50 pounds of DAP and 50 pounds of ammonium sulfate after the first herbicide treatment and flushes it across. “We pulled soil samples four or five years ago, and we were still out the roof on potash. There are still some areas with phosphate deficiencies.”
Cochran will put out 200 pounds of 41-0-0-4, pre-flood, “and as soon as we get the water established and get things settled down, we put another 100 pounds in the water. Then at half-inch internode plus three to four days, we put our last 100 pounds in the water.”
Cochran’s farm has adequate water supply for crop irrigation, “but we need to be vigilant on our conservation of water. We use side inlet irrigation, straight levees, pads around fields and tailwater recovery.
“My grandfather, Hiram Cochran, had good foresight and started working the 50-acre homeplace off water from the front 2,000 acres. We have several places we can pick up water. Wherever we landform, we’ve always thought about being able to recover water.”
Cochran’s rice consultant James Bowen, advises Cochran on herbicide, insecticide and fungicide applications and timing. Stink bugs are probably the biggest insect pests in rice and are controlled with Karate.
A fungicide will usually be applied to Cochran’s CL 151 and Sabine, but his CL XL745 doesn’t require one, which helps offset the higher seed costs of the hybrid. “The CL XL 745 just has a good disease package. We didn’t have the disease pressure, and even without a fungicide, we raised good quality rice that was smut free.”
At harvest, “we drain the fields and that’s when the fun starts.”
This season, harvest began around Aug. 20 with two John Deere 9770 combines. “I’m blessed with two really good combine operators, my cousin Joe Trotter and Leon Richardson. We had a great eight days of harvest, then we ran into rice that wasn’t getting ready.”
Early yields were strong in 2009. “The CL XL745 has been a bell ringer the last couple of years. The CL 151, when it was standing, was doing as well as the CL XL745, but it doesn’t have the standability. Both are going to be a part of my program next year, I’m going to plant the CL 151 earlier next year, in March.”
Cochran says drainage, watering power and patience are keys to farming the buckshot soils on the farm. “When it’s time to go, you go. Watch what your neighbors do, incorporate their successes into your operation and hopefully don’t rut it up in the fall.”
His patience has been thoroughly tested this season. Untimely rains not only delayed planting in the spring, but also have dictated almost every harvesting move this fall. He took advantage of a brief opening in the weather in late September to harvest some down CL 151. Cochran still had 700 acres of rice to harvest in early October, and with time running short, he decided to purchase two sets of Soucy combine tracks, to add a few more hours of combining to the day.
“We literally cannot stand up with the big flotation tires at 10 pounds of pressure. We had to quit one Saturday night at 7 p.m. because we were so scared we were going to get stuck. We were cutting some deep ruts.”
The tracks, which cut pounds per square inch by about 70 percent, should reduce ruts and allow for timely planting in 2010, according to Cochran.
While Trotter and Richardson are driving combines, Cochran manages the trucks, supervises fieldwork and works the dryers. The importance of the dryers is often underappreciated, he says. “If you learn a lot about grain bins and work with them, you can really improve the milling quality in the bin. Just take time to dry it correctly.”
Cochran dries his CL 151 and CL XL 745, with his Sabine going to a commercial operation for drying.
The dryers came in handy in 2008 when two late fall hurricanes threatened the crop. Cochran’s crew ran for 8 straight days harvesting rice at moisture levels from 17.5 percent to 22 percent. “It cost a fortune to dry, but during those eight days we got out 50 percent of our crop and didn’t rut up the fields.”
The use of GPS has increased efficiency for many of the farm’s operations, Cochran says. “We run the RTK (sub-inch accuracy) on our 12-row, 30-inch soybean planter, SF2 (accuracy to within four inches) on our grain drill and SF1 (accuracy to within 10 inches) for pulling levees, disking and land leveling.”
While Mid-South rice production appears to have weathered this season’s torrential rains better than other crops, Cochran feels for his fellow farmers, “We need every acre of this Delta producing regardless of whether it’s mine or yours. Just because I get mine out and you don’t get yours out doesn’t mean that I’m okay. We all have to row the boat together.”
Although the rainy season has reduced his rice yields, rutted fields and ruined a significant portion of his soybean crop, Cochran keeps it all in perspective. “You have to learn how to deal with His ways and live under His timetable.”
Cochran’s family, his wife, Rachel, and children Miriam and Matthew, also keep the farmer grounded. “I love my family. I love my wife. She raises the most important crop on this operation.”