Over the last few years, the Missouri Bootheel has made a steady move to more rice acreage. For Brian Ottis, this isn’t a surprise.

“Even in Arkansas, rice production has moved into the northeast – Poinsett, Craighead, Crittenden counties,” says the Missouri Extension rice specialist. “It’s just a hop and skip to the Bootheel from there.”

Historically, Bootheel rice acreage was in Stoddard and Butler counties, west of Crowley’s Ridge. Most of the new acres are going into Dunklin, Pemiscot and New Madrid counties. The newer acres are typically on heavy clay soils that have been in cotton or dryland soybeans.

“Our growers have found that if they grade those fields the profit potential is much greater with rice than with beans or cotton. So we’re seeing a lot of new rice growers in the Bootheel and that’s going to continue.”

A USGS survey determined the Bootheel has 656,000 acres suitable for rice production. If all that was to go into rice, “in a given year we’d max out at about 300,000 acres. That’s because, as in Arkansas, many producers are in a rice/soybean rotation.”

Predicting 2006

On March 10, along with some of the Bootheel’s top crop consultants, Brian Ottis attended a meeting at the Delta Research Center in Portageville, Mo. “I think everyone was in agreement that our rice acres will be down 5 percent to 7 percent. That’s less than what we thought would be the case last fall.”

Even with that slight drop, Missouri will plant around 200,000 acres of rice. Last year, some 213,000 acres were harvested.

Ottis says the positive turn is most likely due to recent increases in the rice price and reduction in urea costs.

“A month ago, urea was running $325 to $350 per ton. But the way natural gas prices are tracking, it appears urea prices could drop below $300. That certainly bodes well for rice acres in the Bootheel.”

Because of the Bootheel’s abundant water supply and overall cheap growing conditions – “at least compared to the disease and insect pressures faced by growers further south – Missouri rice producers are blessed.

“Our producers have more profit potential because of commonly graded fields and overall ease of production. I’m not saying it’s easy but we have the ability to get into the fields with ground equipment. We don’t have to rely on airplanes until mid-season.”

Rice acres continue to creep north.

“We had some test plots that were put in on the Iowa border last year. Those cut 10,000 pounds. So, based on one year of data, rice can be grown a lot further north than the Bootheel.

“Recently, I’ve actually been in contact with someone in South Dakota. He wants seed so he can try to grow rice up there.

“I talked to another guy who’s been growing rice 60 miles east of St. Louis. He’s been growing rice for ducks for the last five years.”

Planting/other issues

Some eager Bootheel growers will begin planting rice the first week of April. The typical planting window for the area opens in mid-April and runs through mid-May.

Because last fall was dry, much Bootheel cultivation and tillage was done then.

“Of course with diesel prices being so high, growers are a little shy to get in the field too much. But there has been some tillage going on – especially for those getting ready to plant corn.”

In the lead up to planting, Ottis says there’s been some interest in Clearfield 131. “The data I’ve seen isn’t showing a huge yield bump with it, though. Last year, some of our growers said they saw a 5 to 10 bushel advantage with CL131. Still, I’m not ready to say 131 will replace 161.”

As far as conventional varieties, Ottis says Wells will continue to be the Bootheel’s “cash cow. That variety tends to do best across all areas. We have also seen good things out of Cheniere and expect to see more Cybonnet planted too. Cybonnet has done well in our research plots and it has good milling characteristics.

“There’s also interest in early maturing varieties like Spring and Trenasse. I anticipate we’ll see new acres in those, as well.”

Some Bootheel rice is being planted on zero grade fields. This is a concern because “when growers try to rotate rice into beans, sometimes those fields have issues with flooding.”

To address this, Ottis and colleagues are involved with crop rotation research. “We’re testing various soybean varieties that can withstand flooded conditions better. We want to find soybean varieties that perform better following rice here.”

Another bit of news: Rice stalk corer has been confirmed in Missouri rice.

“Consultants claimed they’d seen it, but we finally got confirmation on rice stalk borer being in the Bootheel. Last year, I found it in three locations in Pemiscot County.

“We don’t think we’ll reach threshold levels with that insect. But everyone is watching for it now and we’re seeing it more. The borer seems to be moving north out of Arkansas.”

e-mail: dbennett@prismb2b.com