Arkansas rice farmer Dow Brantley still plants about 20 percent of his 1,200-acre rice crop in conventional tillage methods.

“Some fields need to be cleaned up every year,” said Brantley, who farms near England, Ark. Brantley discussed his conservation tillage program at the recent Conservation Tillage Cotton and Rice Conference in Houston, Texas.

That percentage may be a bit higher in 2005. “We had wet weather in the fall and got no field work done,” he said.

Brantley operates a diverse cropping system with rice, soybeans, cotton and corn. “I may cut back soybean acreage because of soybean rust,” he said. “I'll also increase rice acreage, possibly to 1,300 to 1,400 acres.”

He usually rotates two-thirds of his rice acreage on a 50-50 system with soybeans. The other third he runs in continuous rice.

“I'm starting my ninth year of rice on a zero-grade tillage system,” he said.

He's sold on reduced-till rice and said advantages include:

  • Lower production costs.
  • More profit per acre.
  • Less labor demand (the same labor handles more acres).
  • Less wear on equipment.
  • More residue (helps with more cotton).
  • Less red rice pressure, especially with continuous rice.

Brantley cuts rice straw and burns it after harvest. “I haven't been able to plant into rice straw,” he said. “That's why I burn it. I use an 8-foot hay cutter and go slowly. I use a stripper header to harvest the rice.”

He prepares zero-grade fields for winter flood (November through March). He uses a burndown herbicide that costs from $10 to $12 per acre.

On fields for soybean rotation he smoothes the levees and prepares for stale seedbed soybeans. He uses a straw chopper on his soybean combine to spread residue.

Brantley applies a burndown herbicide to conservation tillage fields in February.

“I plant rice slowly with a no-till drill, from 4.5 to 5.5 miles per hour. That helps with planting depth. Good drainage also is a key with this system.”

He adds a pre-emergence herbicide to glyphosate, forms levees and re-applies a pre-emergence material.

“On the zero-grade, I hold the winter flood, pull it off in March and apply the burndown.”

He said in addition to proper drainage and slow planting speed, early burndown, careful identification of weeds and adding something like 2,4-D to the glyphosate make big differences in the success of zero grade rice.

He's considering water seeding on the zero-grade fields.

About one-third of his acreage last year was in Clearfield rice. It works well, he said.


e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com