Early planting and higher-than-average temperatures have led to Mississippi’s earliest rice crop harvest to date.

Optimal planting for rice is before May 1, and favorable conditions allowed most of the state’s crop to make it in by that date. Then, hot summer temperatures accelerated the crop’s maturation process, allowing more than half of Mississippi’s rice to be harvested by early September.

“Rice responds well to heat, and because of the high temperatures the state experienced this summer, the crop matured early,” said Nathan Buehring, rice specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “Almost 60 percent has been harvested already. This is the earliest harvest we’ve ever had.”

Harvesting in Washington County, Miss., was well under way by mid-August. By early September, very little crop was left in the fields.

“The heat pushed early flowering, so we got a nice, early harvest,” said Extension agronomist Lester Stephens. “But it has also hurt a bit. The really high temperatures caused a little damage, but overall, the crop looks pretty good.”

Heat caused some problems for all the rice planted late in Mississippi.

Buehring said only 20 percent of the state’s crop missed early planting by just a couple weeks.

“The small percentage of rice planted in late April and early May was actually hindered by the hot weather,” he said. “The highest temperatures hit while that crop was pollinating, which caused damage.”

Buehring said the state’s harvest should be completed by mid- to late September.

“Harvest is ahead of schedule across the nation. As of Sept. 5, about 45 percent of U.S. acres have been harvested. The previous five-year average for this point in time has been only 24 percent harvested,” said John Michael Riley, Extension agricultural economist. “In Mississippi, harvested acres for this time of year are up from the previous five-year average of 16 percent.”

Riley said crop reports appear favorable with 68 percent of the nation’s crop being rated as good or excellent. Only 5 percent has been rated poor or very poor.

The spot futures contract price is $11.69 per hundredweight, down from about $13.25 per hundredweight this time last year because of the larger crop. The current price is an improvement over midsummer prices, Riley said.

Exports are also favorable due to almost no international pressure.

“Export sales have been improving over the last couple of weeks, and prices are rebounding,” Riley said. “The strength in exports stems from a weaker U.S. dollar, the crop in Thailand being behind schedule and Vietnam having already sold a good portion in the export market. All of this leaves U.S. rice in a fairly good position as we head further into harvest.”

“This has been almost a perfect season so far, especially when you compare it with last year,” Buehring said. “Overall, everyone is pleased with the way things are going.”