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California rice growers pleased with crop after poor start

Few in the big crowd at Rice Field Day this year at the Biggs, Calif., Rice Experiment Station would argue with the state’s 2006 crop estimate of 7,700 pounds per acre.

And most are thankful it is not lower after the three-week delay in planting and a searing July hot spell.

A 78-sack state average would not get too much of an argument and one “yield expert” thinks the state could make an 8,000-pound average. Only the bold would go that far now.

Regardless of the number you pick, growers are willing to take a crop in the 77-80 sack range. It has been that kind of year. No record, but not bad considering.

Brothers Bill and Wayne Vineyard, Placer County, Calif., rice growers near the town of Lincoln, are happy to admit to a good crop. No bin buster, but considering the late start and extreme July heat, they were pleased at Rice Field Day with results.

It was the mild August weather that made the difference for the Vineyards, according to Bill. “That is what really filled the heads,” he said.

However, the crop is a bit taller than Wayne likes.

“There is no lodging yet, but the water is still on it,” he said.

Asked if the excessive heat caused any blanks, Bill said, “We have blanks every year. If we had no blanks, we’d have a heckuva crop.”

University of California Cooperative Extension rice farm advisor in Butte County, Randall “Cass” Mutters, said two things cause blanks: hot and cool weather. “There will be no cool weather blanks this year,” he said.

Mutters agrees that it will be a good year for California rice growers.

“There are some very nice looking fields, but there are also some real dogs and those will drag the average down.”

While the Vineyard brothers believe the mild-August filled heads, Mutters believes it improved quality. “When you get the kind of August we have had, quality is usually very good.”

Mutters also agrees with Wayne Vineyard that lodging before harvest is a valid concern.

“There is a field of Japanese rice not far from the field station that is almost completely laying down and the water is still on it,” he said.

The ’06 rice plants are generally taller than normal due to longer internodes put on by plants after the hot spell. If the ’06 California rice crop is to make an 80-sack average, it may take skilled head lifted harvesting.

Mutters said the crop has pretty well caught up to normal and he expects harvest to start by mid-September.

For growers and PCAs who were hoping the late start would cut into the rice water weevil (RWW) population, no such luck. University of California entomologist Larry Godfrey said about three times more RWW were trapped this year compared to last year.

Godfrey said RWW populations cycle and “we appear to be on an upswing from the past and some fields were hurt by weevils this season.”

Fortunately, rice growers were given good control materials in pyrethroids after the loss of Furadan in 2000. Warrior was the first pyrethroid and it was followed by the registration of Mustang and Proaxis, two other pyrethroids.

These materials are applied at the 2-to three-3 stage rather than the pre-plant stage for Furadan.

“The industry has effectively used these new pyrethroids for the past five years and they are now part of the common pest management scheme,” said Godfrey. In 2004, the most recent year data is available, 80,000 acres were treated with pyrethroids.

More than 90 percent of all insecticide usage in rice is a pyrethroid insecticide. Dimilin and Sevin were the only other insecticides used in rice in any significant quantities in 2004.

The bad news is that pyrethroids are coming under the regulatory microscope because they bind tightly to organic matter and have the potential to run-off fields and into waterways where it may kill several aquatic organisms.


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