Airplanes and ground applicators have been used to apply amendments to rice crops in Mississippi since the mid-1950s, and the interests and success of rice producers and aerial aviators have become intricately intertwined.

In the late 1990s, technology inserted into cotton, soybeans, and corn allowed over-the-top application of glyphosate onto those crops. The technology immediately revolutionized the production systems for those crops.

The U.S. rice industry never adapted the glyphosate-resistant technology for fear that its product — consumed with virtually no processing — would be forsaken by consumers worldwide. And so, non-transgenic rice is planted in a sea of genetically modified crops that are tolerant to glyphosate.

For years, this seemed to pose no real problem or threat. In the early to mid part of the last decade, however, reports of rice damaged by glyphosate drift began to surface with increasing frequency. Rice specialists noticed that rice that had no obvious damage through the growing season would yield and mill poorly and would exhibit the classic trait associated with late glyphosate drift — the kernel would be shaped like a parrot beak instead of its normally elongated, symmetrical shape.

In 2006, immediately after most crops were planted in the Delta, a wet and windy period set in. Airplanes set out to spray cotton, corn, and soybean fields plagued with weeds. Not many thought much of it at first.

By mid-May, however, reports of dead rice and rice burned off to the ground began to surface. Soon the reports were widespread. It was estimated that 30,000 to 50,000 acres of rice were damaged or destroyed that year by glyphosate.

So much glyphosate seemed to go out in such a short time over such a large area that it was often difficult to identify the offenders. Many farmers were never compensated for damages.

The extensive damage to what was already an economically challenging crop did not set well with Mississippi’s rice industry. Frustrations were on two  levels: (1) penalties often seemed insignificant and violators (especially repeat violators) were given what our industry perceived to be a wrist-slapping, and (2) the level of liability insurance coverage was in many cases not enough to cover one claim, much less multiple claims.

Mississippi’s rice farmers petitioned the state capitol and the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce for change and got it. The responsibility for the dispensing of penalties for aerial applicators found in violation of rules was given to the Bureau of Plant Industry. Aerial applicators and ground applicators now work with the same penalty structure, commonly called the Penalty Matrix. This provides a uniform system of penalty assessment among all applicators, aerial and ground, and penalties are now meted out in uniform fashion.

In addition, after careful consideration the MAAA acted to increase their minimal liability insurance requirements from $100,000 to $300,000, with a $500,000 aggregate.

One can divide the window of timing and the types of damage that glyphosate drift onto rice can have into two periods.

The first is from emergence to flooding. Rice hit at this time could be thinned, burned off to the ground only to re-emerge in various maturity and health stages, or killed. In some cases, with increased expense, it can be managed so that the crop grows out of the damage and goes on to make a normal or somewhat reduced yield.

If the young crop is killed, it can be replanted with rice (which research indicates will generally suffer a yield loss), or if pre-emerge herbicides applied to the rice allow, the land can be planted to an alternate crop.

Either effort will increase production costs and generally produce a crop with decreased yield potential.

The second distinct period that glyphosate damage occurs — and by far the most detrimental — is from a short time before internode elongation to the time when the crop begins to dry down. Mississippi’s rice crop generally begins its internode elongation period around June 1, and it is at this time that much yield potential is set.