After the fourth largest rice acreage in Mississippi history in 2010, plantings are expected to drop significantly this year in response to high prices for other crops.

“Last year, we had 305,000 acres,” says Tim Walker, associate research professor at the Delta Research and Extension Center, Stoneville, Miss. “Historically, we’ve seen a sizable rice acreage decline in the year following a large crop. Combine that trend with the ability of growers now able to lock in good prices for cotton, corn, and soybeans, and I’m looking for only about 214,000 acres of rice this season,” he said at the annual conference of the Mississippi Agricultural Consultants Association at Mississippi State University.

“I don’t think acres will drop under 200,000, but I don’t expect to see more than 215,000 on the top end.”

The 2010 season got off to “an almost perfect start,” Walker says. “Thanks to good weather, I’ve never seen so much rice go in the ground so fast — we were basically done planting by early May.

But, things went downhill when high temperatures in July and August caused sterility and panicle blight.

“Ten days of 100 degrees-plus daytime and abnormally high nighttime temperatures took a toll,” he says.

“Earlier planted fields had quite good yields, but some of the later-planted rice suffered, with yields of 100 bushels or below.”

Planting date studies that have been under way for several years continue to show the historic “sweet spot” for seeding rice is late March to May, Walker notes.

“We have planted in late May some years and cut good rice — but not last year. Yields from early planted rice were phenomenal, but for rice planted in early May, yields fell considerably, as low as 114 bushels.”

Lodging was also a problem in many fields of Clearfield 151, a variety that has become popular with growers and was planted on a large percentage of acres in 2010, he says.

“This variety has tremendous yield potential — over 200 bushels per acre — but its main weakness is lodging. In many cases, this is related to nitrogen management.