Hot, dry, windy and smoky or cold, rainy, wet and cloudy — you name it, the 2009 U.S. rice crop experienced it in some form or fashion in 2008. Here’s a closer look from rice experts speaking at the USA Rice Outlook Conference in Little Rock:
According to Bobby Coats, an Extension economist with the University of Arkansas, last year’s production season in the state “was full of emotional highs and lows. Yield setbacks were more common than success stories.
“Market prices reached record highs in April, a wet spring added two to three weeks to our production season, a delayed farm bill created problems and uncertainty for our producers, record input costs impacted cash flow and the lingering effects from tropical storms added two to three weeks to our production season.”
Added to that were some statistical anomalies that may not be cleared up until January or later. Coats believes that Arkansas acreage is probably slightly understated by USDA, while yields are overstated by a greater amount. “Whether the overstatement of production is small or large won’t be known until later in the marketing period. So the uncertainty will remain for a period of time.”
Coats projects Arkansas rice acreage for 2009 at between 1.07 million and 1.39 million acres, depending on factors such as production costs, rice prices, the global economic situation and prices of competing feedgrains.
Chris Greer, farm advisor with the University of California, says the 2008 growing season in the state “was fairly similar to 2007. We had a very dry spring, which led to some very early-planted rice going in under some cool conditions. We saw some seedling diseases that we usually don’t see. We also had some very late-planted rice following wheat.
“The summer was mostly mild. We had some heavy forest fires and we had smoke cover through most of the season, which has a similar impact as cloud cover. We had some cold-weather induced blanking on some later-planted rice, but we had some good conditions for grain ripening. Generally, we had good yields considering the year, and we had some good milling quality for most of the harvest season.”
Yields on the state’s 517,000 rice acres are estimated at about 81 hundredweight per acre.
Rice acreage for 2009 will depend largely on water availability, according to Greer. “Most of our reservoirs in California are very low. My educated guess is if we sell a lot of water, acreage could be around 425,000 acres. If we don’t, 520,000 acres would be my guess.”
Louisiana rice specialist Johnny Saichuk says rice producers were on par to break last year’s record yields when hurricanes hit the state. “Today, based on the hurricane damage, I think the (NASS) numbers (on yields) are too high.”
Saichuk said the state’s ratoon crop acreage was a little higher in 2008 than in 2007, and there were expectations for a good second crop, “but hurricanes blew that away.”
The season started with a shortage of planting seed, which was due to an acreage increase on suddenly higher rice prices. “We didn’t think we’d have the acres we ended up having.”
The state’s growers “faced a cold April that got us into a late crop and the longest rice season I’ve experienced. We just harvested our final verification field two weeks ago. We’ve never harvested rice in the third week of November.
“The crop was set back by glyphosate drift. It’s getting to be a huge problem. We’re also seeing Newpath injury in adjacent (conventional) rice. We know Newpath is labeled to kill rice. It doesn’t take much. We had several hundred acres completely destroyed.
“We found out that hybrid rice doesn’t like hurricanes. A hurricane will blow the seed right off the head.”
For 2009, Saichuk believes rice acres in the state will remain fairly stable, while Clearfield acreage will continue to rise. “If total rice acreage does go up, it will be to 460,000 acres to 470,000 acres.”
Saichuk reports that the state has confirmed Newpath resistance in some fields, “so that is going to be a problem we have to deal with. It will get worse, not better. As we predicted, those farmers who did not practice good stewardship will lose the technology. Those who do practice good stewardship will keep it.”
Wet and/or dry conditions had a negative impact on the Mississippi rice crop from planting to harvest, said Nathan Buehring, the state’s Extension rice specialist. “We had a lot of wet weather which delayed our planting until the middle of June, which is uncharacteristic for Mississippi. In 2007, we had 75 percent of our crop planted by April 15. This year, we only had 25 percent planted by that date.
Rice yields in the state are estimated at 70 hundredweight per acre, “which, I think, is a little bit high.”
High input costs from fuel to fertilizer, also had an adverse effect on the producer’s bottom line in 2008, according to Buehring.
Nonetheless, Mississippi rice acreage could reach record levels in 2009, noted Buehring. “Interest in rice is at a high level right now, and that has a lot to do with other commodity prices being depressed. There’s a lot of hope that rice prices are going to maintain a range of $5 per bushel to $6 per bushel range.”
“The one thing I kept hearing about the 2008 crop was that it was so expensive,” said Donn Beighley, rice breeder at Southeast Missouri State University. “There were high input costs, then it got expensive into harvest due to hurricanes Gustav and Ike. Many producers were glad when the season was over.”
The season got off to a slow start due to cool temperatures, noted Beighley. “Our farmers like to get started around April 1, and we ended up with the first fields being planted around April 16. With the floods we experienced, we introduced another problem into our growing region, the tadpole shrimp. We saw it on about 5,000 acres of water-seeded rice.”
Cool temperatures hung around most of the growing season, Beighley said. “The state climatologist said we had the coolest year in 23 years. That delayed our harvest somewhat. High winds from the hurricanes resulted in lots of shattering and down rice, which slowed harvest and reduced our yields somewhat.”
As for 2009 acres, Beighley noted, “It’s too early to tell. We need to get a better handle on commodity prices.”
Larry Falconer, Extension economist at Texas A&M University, said overall Texas yields in 2008 “were extremely good,” although there were problems with salt water intrusion as consequence of hurricanes.
“We also saw less organic rice acreage in Texas this year, mostly due to the increase in rice prices as we went into planting season.”
For 2009, Falconer says growers are looking at historically high costs of production. “If we can hold prices where they are, Texas rice acres will probably be right around where they were last year. There is still quite a bit of interest in organic rice.”