The Arkansas rice crop has had a rough few weeks. This spring’s cool, dry weather caused emergence problems. Salinity injury and seedling disease are also being seen.

“The crop has struggled,” said Chuck Wilson, Arkansas Extension rice specialist in mid-May. “Over (the second week in May), warmer temperatures have arrived and the crop has turned for the better. But it still has some catching up to do — particularly rice planted the first couple weeks of April north of I-40. Rice up there just hasn’t grown well and that’s where I’m getting most of the problem calls from. But there are trouble fields in south Arkansas too. Rice planted mid-April or later looks much better than our early-planted rice.”

Most of the crop is still in decent shape although a “few” fields have been replanted due to poor stands.

What do the early problems mean for yield?

“I think we’re still set for a decent crop, although I’m not predicting records at this point,” said Wilson. “The weather later in the season is as, if not more, important for the crop. The last couple of excellent yield years, we’ve had mild temperatures in July and August and that, I think, was the key contributing factor.”

Brad Koen said producers in his area of east Arkansas are beginning to put fertilizer out and flood fields. Recent warmer weather has lifted the crop and producers’ spirits.

“Until the last week or so of warmer weather, the rice just sat here for nearly a month and did nothing,” said Koen, a consultant with Agronomic Resources, based in DeWitt, Ark. “Our fields are pretty clean. That’s really a surprise. Command and some of the other residual herbicides need wet weather to keep activated. As dry as it’s been, I was expecting more grass troubles. But the crop is relatively clean.”

In early April, shortly after planting, Koen said the area had a “huge rain.” The rice was pushed deep into the soil and caused much worry. As a result, “overall, we probably have a thinner stand than normal. But it’s still adequate.”

The most widespread problem Wilson is hearing regards salinity. “Seedling disease is also out there, but salt is more of a problem. And that’s a result of the weather patterns to large degree.”

Wilson said moisture on a field followed by a dry, windy day exacerbates the salinity. “And that’s the weather pattern we’ve been seeing. For irrigation, we’ve been using more surface water and normally that should help with salt. At the same time, unless you’re pumping pure, distilled water, salts are going to be in the irrigation water.

“Whatever the source of the irrigation, though, the salts are distributed throughout the soil. As water moves to the surface during the evaporation process, the salts move up with it. The problem with the concentration of salts occurs with rapid evaporation.”

Not all the news is bad for the rice crop. Scott Matthews, a no-till farmer from Weiner, Ark., said his rice looks “great. I’m standing in a field right now that has plants nearly half a foot tall. This no-till rice had no problems coming up. We planted Wells very shallow and, even in the cold weather we’ve had, it’s come up surprisingly well. We’ve only had one big rain since it was planted, but the stand looks fine.”

Matthews said since switching to pure no-till rice, he quit having stand and flushing troubles. In fact, he’s never flushed a no-till rice field.

“We planted in mid-April this year, later than we normally do,” said Matthews. “We only seeded our ground about 85 pounds per acre and were nervous about that. But there wasn’t any reason for concern.”

One thing all agree on: Arkansas rice needs a rain badly.

“It’s been a couple of weeks since we’ve had a decent rain,” said Wilson. “There was great hope for rains (the weekend of May 14), but I don’t know how much good they did. In Arkansas County, not much fell — maybe a tenth of an inch. That’s not enough to make much difference. That means a lot of flushing will probably be going on because we’re so parched.”

e-mail: dbennett@primediabusiness.com