Looking back at a very wet 2009, Mississippi experienced “the second-wettest May on record and the fifth-wettest July,” said Nathan Buehring, Mississippi Extension rice specialist at the recent 2010 Conservation Systems Cotton and Rice Conference in Tunica, Miss.

“The only reason September isn’t on the list is because we sometimes experience hurricanes and tropical systems that dump a lot of rain. October turned out to be the wettest ever.”

The odd month out was June, “the driest we’ve ever had in Stoneville. We received no rain at all that month.”

Weather is always the “biggest wildcard” for Mid-South growers, said Buehring. “I thought 2008 was a bad weather year but 2009 was worse as far as rainfall received at planting and harvest.

“In 2009, we re-planted/spot-planted more rice than we have in a long time. We had a lot of extremely late-planted rice in June. Rice was planted all the way up to June 25.”

That late-planted rice didn’t do well — especially with cooler temperatures and lots of rainfall at pollination. To make a late-planted rice crop, “you need a lot of sunshine and heat to push it. True, we had a hot June but the crop was so late it didn’t have a chance to benefit from those heat units.”

Buehring then shifted attention to planting dates in trials around Stoneville. “Folks in northeast Arkansas, northern Mississippi and Missouri probably couldn’t use these dates. But to give some sort of idea: the planting window opens March 25 and ends around May 10. Looking at seven different cultivars, yields tailed off after a planting date of May 10.”

Growers in the lower portion of the Mississippi Delta likely “need to start planting in late March. Consider how many acres you’ll be planting, though. If you’re a 500-acres rice farmer, you probably won’t have to begin planting until April. But if you’ve got 3,000 or 4,000 acres of rice to plant, you better start a bit earlier than you really want to. There’s a lot more to lose by planting past the optimum window of about May 15. “

As for cultivar selection, around the first of September, Buehring thought “we’d push 70-some percent CL 151 going into 2010. But due to all the excessive rainfall and lodging that occurred in that variety last fall, I think we’ll back off that. We’ll probably be 60 to 70 percent Clearfield across the state — but not so much in that one variety.”

In terms of planting, Buehring has been telling growers to plant some of their less-stable cultivars first — “such as hybrids and CL 151. That’s because you’ll harvest those first and they shouldn’t have to endure as much excessive weathering that lots of late-planted rice must.”

For some of the more stable cultivars — “like CL 131, Cocodrie, Cheniere and others — that are short and can stand up better in adverse weather, push them to a later planting date. They can sit in a field and do better with lodging and shattering than CL 151 or some hybrids.”

What about seeding rates?

“We’re comfortable with our seeding rate recommendations. For our varieties we recommend around 30 to 40 seeds per square foot. You can go lower than that but moisture and seedbed prep should be optimal in those instances.”

With different varieties there are differences in the number of seed per pound. It used to be, no matter the variety, “we’d plant 120 pounds to the acre. Things have changed, so check the charts (available from your state’s Extension offices). For example, CL 151 at 70 pounds per acre amounts to about 34 seed per square foot.”

Planting depths?

“I’ve seen rice planted (about 2 to 3 inches deep). Yes, it will come up, but it takes a lot of time. From what I’ve seen out of CL 151, it doesn’t like to be planted deep and doesn’t like a lot of water on top of it. CL 131 and CL 161 come out of the ground a lot faster than CL 151.

“I like the seed to be 1.5-inches deep when planting, into the moisture. I don’t like to put seed in the ground and hope for rain or flush behind it. I’d rather flush in front of the planting. That’s a lot easier.”

Buehring says some CL 151 fields in Mississippi had a tough growing season in 2009. “Yes, it has some issues but it also has great yield potential.

“At the end of August, we saw a lot of ‘dead spots’ showing up in fields. They were nearly dead, lodged. We studied that and found black sheath rot was becoming an issue in CL 151 — lots of blanks. There weren’t a lot of good control measures.

“We also had some issues with blast and straighthead in CL 151. Guys thought they could put it wherever they wanted. But it isn’t really suited for lighter soils.”

In an effort to make rice plants stand up a bit better at harvest, Buehring and colleagues have been studying several fertilizer regimes.

“We’ve done some work with Hidalgo in the past. It’s a tall, lanky plant and Uncle Ben was offering a premium for growing it. Many growers took them up on that, but Hidalgo had a severe lodging problem.”

Nitrogen fertility plot work to address that showed “a split treatment — 180 units, total: 90 before the flood, 45 at mid-season and 45 at 10 percent heading — stood up a heck of a lot better” than others. “Adding a shot of nitrogen at the end keeps the stalk a bit greener and standing a bit better.”

e-mail: dbennett@farmpress.com