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Arkansas' record-breaking rice crop

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- In the neighborhood of 95 percent harvested, Arkansas' rice crop is a winner. USDA is projecting the state's average yield at 6,550 pounds (just over 145 bushels) per acre. If that holds up, it will be a record.

"Based on what I've heard from across the state, I suspect we could make that record," says Chuck Wilson, Arkansas Extension rice specialist. "Areas that were affected by the early May flooding are cutting average crops. But other areas are bringing in really high yields. Overall, the crop is just outstanding.

"The Grand Prairie looks great. I've spoken with several producers from there that are cutting over 200-bushel rice. The thing that encourages me is that more and more farmers outside the Grand Prairie are reporting they've hit the 200-bushel mark. That bodes well."

What about the crop's quality?

"Overall, indications are that the head rice quality is a bit lower than what's been seen in the past," says Wilson. "I don't have a good explanation for that because, in my opinion, the things that contributed to our high yields — moderate temps among other things — should have improved milling also. It's curious why that didn't happen. The milling is still well within acceptable ranges, it's just lower than it's been in the past."

Louisiana has yet to begin harvesting the second rice crop "in a big way," says John Saichuk, Extension rice specialist.

"There's some ripe rice out that looks good, but we don't know how good. Normally, we would have had some harvested by the second week of October, but we got 3 or 4 inches of rain in areas of south Louisiana and that's brought everything to a halt."

Saichuk doesn't think the state has the quality of last year's second crop. But almost none of last year's second crop was harvested because of hurricanes.

"Any of the current second crop we can get out will be a bonus over last year. Right now, our estimate for state average is sitting at 5,800 pounds. The second crop, hopefully, will boost that up some."

Reports from northeast Louisiana are that some producers had outstanding yields and others were disappointed. It's the same thing in the south.

"It's a mixed bag," says Saichuk. "I think the cloud cover really played a role in holding first crop yields down. The beginning of the season was cool and wet. That delayed our planting and that certainly contributes to reduction in yield most years. I don't know if it contributed as much this year because Steve Linscombe, a researcher at the Crowley station, told me some late planted rice in a study yielded better than the early rice. That's very unusual."

Regardless, after the early cool, wet period, it warmed up and Louisiana producers were able to get the crop planted. Everything appeared to be going well and then it started raining.

"We were getting thundershowers every afternoon and they wouldn't quit. We had very little sunshine during the key grain-filling period. We stayed under a lot of cloud cover and it was uncomfortable and humid. The temperatures weren't that bad, though — a lot of 92- and 93-degree days. We didn't hit the high 90s until later in August and by that time the southern half of the state had pretty much completed harvest."

Other concerns popped up.

"We have stem borers — particularly in the northeastern part of the state — that seem to be becoming more common. We think that most of the borers we're seeing in rice are actually sugarcane borers coming out of the corn and grain sorghum fields. As those crops mature, the borers are looking to move into fresh vegetation in the grass family and, unfortunately, rice fits that description."

Earlier this year, Boris Castro (Louisiana Extension entomologist) found European corn borers in a Morehouse Parish rice field.

"That perked up some ears," says Saichuk. "That pest had never been reported in rice before.

"We're also concerned about the Mexican rice borer coming into the southwestern portion of Louisiana from Texas. A lot of people think it's inevitable that this pest will be in our state. Others say that Houston will act as a barrier. But I think it's likely that the pest will swing around south, come up around Beaumont and work its way over the border."

Louisiana needs some dry weather — at least two or three weeks — to get the second crop matured and out of the field.

"October is supposed to be a dry month but last year it didn't work out that way and it looks like it won't again. Right now, the second crop looks fair."

Saichuk says there's currently a lot of interest in Clearfield varieties. "I'm told by seed dealers that all their Clearfield 161 is booked. It's a hot variety."

Wilson suspects there will be quite a bit of Clearfield rice planted in Arkansas next year.

"I've heard some excellent Clearfield yields and 161 is one of the highest milling varieties in the market."

At the same time, though, and with no clear-cut explanation, Wilson has been in Clearfield fields that haven't yielded well.

"The last two weeks, I've gotten calls asking why certain Clearfield varieties didn't yield this season. It's hard for me to make post-mortem analysis. Keep in mind, even the best Clearfield rice I've heard is still 20 bushels behind their best Wells or Francis. Clearfield has great potential, let's you clean up red rice and allows a rice crop to be grown profitably. But if you're after yields alone, it's not the leader."

For the most part, Wells and Francis are doing incredibly well, says Wilson — especially Wells.

"I've had some questions about Francis. Those questions usually focus on why Francis didn't do as good as Wells. If a producer is cutting a 220-bushel Wells crop, he wants to know why the Francis only cut 200 bushels. I don't think Francis has done as poorly as Wells has just done fantastic."

Wilson is also getting questions from producers wanting to know how to deal with late rice. The current cool temps are making it difficult to get the rice dried down to a decent harvest moisture.

"It's been a challenge dealing with this exceptionally cool weather. Once we reached the middle of October and there's still rice that's not ready to cut, I began to get worried. Rains can set in at any time. I don't think (the 5 percent) that's left can hurt our overall production picture. But that isn't going to give much comfort to any farmer who might lose a crop after putting so much money into it."

Often, farmers with late rice are battling to get late soybeans harvested too. The state has had some recent rains that may not cause problems with yields or lodging as much as just keeping soils wet. Anytime you plant rice in June it's risky, says Wilson.

"More than the rain, the cool temps are the biggest issue. The rice is getting to 30 percent or 35 percent moisture, the bottom of the panicle is in the milk stage and isn't progressing any further. It's too wet to salt but, at the same time, if we let it dry down on its own it may be another two or three weeks. In these conditions, I've seen rice sit around for weeks before it's ready to cut. These 40 degree nights aren't what rice needs to finish out. Hopefully, it'll warm up and stay dry."

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