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Serving: Central

The Delta rice crop: Besieged with early problems, rice looks to turn corner

The latest USDA estimate has Arkansas at just over 1.6 million acres of rice. Chuck Wilson, state Extension rice specialist, says that number is close and of that acreage about 42 percent is in Wells, 28 percent in Cocodrie and 10 percent in Bengal.

After a “pretty tough spring” much of the state's rice is currently getting a mid-season shot of fertilizer. “Rice struggled early and the cold May set us back terribly. We've gone through everything from cold injury to severe lespedeza worm infestations to salinity and zinc deficiencies. Considering what the crop could look like, though, I think we should be happy. The crop looks a lot better now than it has during the past 6 weeks,” says Wilson.

Last year, Arkansas had a record rice crop with an average yield of 6,250 pounds per acre. At this point, Wilson doubts such good fortune will be repeated this year. “But rice has a tremendous ability to recover and thrive. I've seen crops that no one expected to do well that turn around and make excellent yields.”

John Saichuk, Louisiana Extension rice specialist, says the southern part of his state has a lot of rice that's headed out.

“Stinkbug pressure is up and we've had to spray fields for the pest. We've had moderate sheath blight pressure. We have confirmed blast in fields of Wells and Bengal that is causing us some concern. We don't have a bunch of either Wells or Bengal in the southern half of the state, though, so it isn't as big a deal as it could be.”

In 1994, Louisiana planted Bengal “all over and blast nearly wiped us out. We went away from Bengal to Cocodrie and other varieties for a while. Recently, some mills contracted for medium grain rice and Bengal acreage is coming back up.”

In north Louisiana, the fields are off to a decent start and are up to top-dressing time. “We had more grass that broke through herbicides than I'd like to see. We're seeing red rice and grass and that's another bad sign because both of those really hurt yields.

“I don't think we're at a record pace for our rice crop. We have a fairly good crop, but not a world-beater. The weather this spring set us back: cool then warm then cool again.

The crop seems to be shorter than it normally is. What that means won't be known until it gets fully headed out,” says Saichuk.

Missouri's bootheel rice crop is looking “pretty good,” says Bruce Beck, Missouri Extension rice specialist. Due to wet conditions, the crop was planted in a staggered fashion and Beck suspects harvest will be strung out.

“We're seeing a lot more rice water weevils in the bootheel than we've seen in many years. I'm afraid a lot of our growers are unfamiliar with the pest and it's gotten past them. In many fields, there's not much that can be done about the weevils now,” says Beck.

“Many farmers first notice water weevils in their fields when they see scarring on leaves. They need to pull up plants and look at roots across the field. And remember: fields infested this year will be the ones most likely infested in the future.”

Unlike in Arkansas and Louisiana, Beck says he's yet to hear of or see a stinkbug problem in Missouri's rice. “Because of the very wet weather, the wheat crop here was pretty poor. Maybe the stinkbugs didn't show up because they didn't have anything to eat.”

Beck suspects Missouri rice acreage will be at just under 200,000 acres — about 5 percent below last year's total. Last year's crop was a record setter in both acres and yields. “We ended up at an average yield of about 5,750 pounds per acre. This year, just because we're later, I'd say the crop will be off that.”

The earliest Arkansas rice was planted the first week of April. Shortly thereafter, about two weeks of dry and warm weather arrived. At that time, the rice was growing well as was the grass. Farmers had often put out Command and if they didn't flush the field right after planting, no moisture arrived to activate the Command.

“It's kind of odd — with all the rain we've had across the state there was this short period where we couldn't get moisture to get the Command working. When the rains started hitting in late April and first of May, Command started working on the later planted rice and really made a positive difference.”

Most north Louisiana farmers using Command went ahead and flushed fields. It's usually a big mistake to wait for rain to activate Command and most of the farmers didn't, says Saichuk.

“A more serious consequence was on Clearfield rice. There are many farmers disappointed in the Clearfield system because of all the red rice they've got. But even if you get 95 percent control of red rice in a weed heavy environment, it still looks bad.”

A lot of farmers thought that if they got six-tenths of an inch of rain that would be enough to get the herbicide going. Then the fields got bone dry.

“Almost every time I've seen a red rice problem in Clearfield is when a farmer has put out a shot of Newpath at planting and then let the field dry out. From everything I've seen, the fields need to be damp until that second application is made,” says Saichuk.

Arkansas' Grand Prairie region is the area hardest hit with lespedeza worms. However, there were other areas that had troubles: Cross, St. Francis, Poinsett and Ashley counties were all hot spots for the pest.

Wilson says it was readily apparent that farmers who used Icon-treated seed were in good shape with the worms. Those who didn't use Icon-treated seed probably wished they had.

“Icon was released and marketed as a water weevil preventative but we've known for several years that it also has activity on lespedeza worms. In fact, some farmers in Cross County — which historically has a problem with the worms — use Icon to deal with them.

“I know a producer in Cross County that was planting Icon treated seed and ran out when he got close to finishing. He went to the seed dealer to get some more and they were out. He finished the field with conventional seed. The worms hit and you can tell down to the row where he stopped planting the Icon-treated seed.”

Wilson began receiving calls on zinc deficiency early during the spring's extended cold, wet spell. Salinity is also being seen, but zinc deficiencies are more prevalent.

“This is one of the first years in a long time that I saw zinc troubles showing up in rice that had yet to be flooded. As we put out the flood, for about two weeks I got calls regularly about zinc deficiencies. Lately, I've been getting calls on later-season zinc problems — those aren't showing up until the joints start moving. I think that may be because the zinc seed treatments are running out and then whatever zinc is available in the field isn't enough to sustain the plant.”

What about fears of stinkbugs moving from wheat to weeds to rice?

Wilson says rice stinkbugs will feed on just about any grass crop: ryegrass, wheat, anything with a seed head. Stinkbugs came “in big numbers” to the wheat crop this year and that likely means trouble for later crops too. By the time the rice gets to a point when stinkbugs like it, 4 or 5 generations of the pest may have passed.

Stinkbugs will move into the rice crop when plants start heading. Since the state started off with high numbers, “it only makes sense our numbers will be high at rice heading stage. Farmers will have to be very focused on this pest. I've already seen stinkbugs at field edges, bidding their time. We need to be careful — stinkbugs caused a lot of quality loss last year.”

Louisiana has seen a steady increase in numbers of stinkbugs for the last several years. “Actually, a couple of years ago we had a bad outbreak. We haven't seen nearly as many stinkbugs this year as then. But they're still working in our fields,” says Saichuk.

As in Louisiana, something Arkansas farmers need to watch out for is blast. Wilson has already gotten several reports of blast in the state.

“We haven't had a lot of blast in the last couple of years. But some very popular and blast-susceptible varieties — Wells, Lagrue and Bengal — have gone into a bunch of Arkansas acres. Farmers need to pump up the water as best they can and pay close attention if we get a few days of rainy, overcast conditions.”

As it's later in the season, Saichuk doubts it will affect many farmers, but he says growers need to be very careful with their sprayings. “We just had some Regiment go out behind malathion by accident. That's strictly a no-no. That's worse than Propanil and malathion. We've got to pay close attention to the labels and what's going on the fields.”

Wilson says several rice field days are coming up in a few weeks. The Rice Research and Extension field day in Stuttgart is scheduled for Aug. 14. A field day at the Southeast Research Center in Rowher is set for Aug. 8.

Beck says a rice field day will be held on Aug. 23 at the Extension center in Poplar Bluff, Mo. The program will begin at 8 A.M. For more information call (573) 686-8064.


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