Markets in recent years have not given rice growers much to celebrate, but several factors are giving them reason to hope for better days in 2003.

Joe Street, rice specialist at Mississippi State University's Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville, Miss., said by the end of the first week of May growers had planted 80 to 90 percent of the fields planned originally for rice, but the final goal remains a moving target.

“Since the price of rice went up a little, growers are planting more than previously planned. In some cases, dry areas are changing from soybeans to rice,” Street said. “We're not going to see a great spike in acreage, but we are not going to lose ground either.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts Mississippi rice to remain near the previous two seasons' plantings at 255,000 acres. Despite two consecutive years of late-season rains, growers posted record yields in 2001 with 6,600 pounds per acre and near-record yields last year with 6,400 pounds.

Street said most of the south Delta is planted, but some north Delta fields have been too wet to finish planting. In dry areas, farmers have to flush water on fields to get seeds started.

“The outlook for rice is improving daily,” Street said.

Mack Young, Quitman County, Miss., Extension director, said growers there still lack planting about 25 percent of their rice crop. The greater the time between earlier plantings and later plantings, the greater the management challenges.

“The problem is growers will have two ages in their rice crops. Whenever you have some fields a few weeks behind the others, it's harder to afford to control insects like you should,” Young said. “Growers still will be planting this year's crop until about the last week of May because of their optimism for the rice markets this year.”

James Smith, president of Delta Rice Services in Webb, Miss., said one factor improving the rice situation in 2003 is the success of the war in Iraq and subsequent lifting of sanctions. An added benefit is the higher demand from Brazil and Mexico. However, predicting the amount those countries will purchase remains a big question.

Smith said new crop contracts are running around $3.50 to $4 per bushel, including Farm Service Agency payments, which are up to 80 cents better than last year.


Linda Breazeale writes for MSU Ag Communications.