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Flail mowing rice stubble helps second crop yields

Raymond Franz has seen a lot of changes since he began growing rice in the Katy area west of Houston in 1960. Farms that were “out in the country” back then are now sprouting subdivisions and four-lane highways.

One thing that has not changed, however, is the need for growers along the Texas Gulf Coast to harvest every barrel of rice they can from both their main crop and second or ratoon crop.

“The only way Texas rice producers have been able to survive is to have that little bit extra that second crop rice provides,” said Franz, who farms more than 600 acres of rice with his son, Dale, on the outskirts of Katy. They are also in the seed and cattle businesses.

The Franzes and Rodney Pederson, a rice producer from nearby Bellville, Texas, appear to have found a way to boost their second crop yields – with a minimum of expense.

Pederson, who grows about 900 acres of rice, began flail mowing his main crop rice after harvesting it in 2000 and was surprised to find out how much difference the practice made in his rice yields. “The first year we did trials and kept records on whole fields,” he said. “We recorded a 700 to 800-pound-per-acre difference in our yields of Cocodrie depending on whether we flail mowed the rice stubble.” v Pederson has continued to flail mow all of his main crop rice stubble for the last four years. Last year, he harvested 39 barrels (green weight) of second crop Clearfield XL8 per acre in one field. He averaged 33 barrels (5,346 pounds) per acre on his ratoon crop Clearfield XL8 and 28 barrels (4,536 pounds) on his second crop Cocodrie.

“I was pleased with the way it turned out,” he said. “The first crop in the field of Clearfield XL8 cut 51 barrels (green weight), which was off a little bit. That may be why the second crop produced more. Sometimes that happens with first and second crop rice.”

Since he flail mows all of his main crop stubble now, Pederson did not have a comparison field for conventionally prepared second-crop rice in 2004. The Franzes tried flail mowing on 250 acres last August.

More rice

They averaged 31 barrels per acre (a barrel is 162 pounds of rice; 31 barrels, 5,022 pounds) of second crop rice from an entire field of XL8. On second crop Cocodrie, they harvested five to eight barrels (810 pounds to 1,296 pounds per acre) more rice where they flail mowed than where they did not.

“The XL8 has big, long heads of rice,” said Raymond, who was interviewed along with Dale at their office in Katy last fall. At that point, they were hopeful of a good second crop because cloudy, wet weather in May and June had hurt main crop yields. “We saw yields of 25 to 30 barrels on our second crop XL8 where we flail mowed last year (2003),” said Dale. “So we were hoping for a good ratoon crop in 2004.”

The Franzes grow foundation and certified Jefferson, Cocodrie and Cheniere seed rice on their farms. They started their main crop harvest on Aug. 6 last year and finished on Aug. 31. “We have to wait on the Texas Department of Agriculture to certify the seed sometimes, so it takes longer to harvest,” says Raymond.

They apply 92 units of nitrogen behind the combine following first crop harvest, run the flail shredder through the stubble and then flush the field with a small amount of water. Once the ratoon crop rice reaches the proper height, they put a shallow flood on it.

Generally, they don’t apply a herbicide for the ratoon rice. “If you have good weed control in the first crop, you have good control in the second,” says Raymond, who has served as chairman of the Texas Rice Improvement Board.

In recent years, they have put out Command with a ground rig and pre-flood nitrogen with a truck in the first crop rice. The remainder of the nitrogen goes on by air. They’ve also sprayed Mustang Max for armyworms in rice. “I’m glad to see research going on with new products,” says Raymond.

Pederson also applies 92 units of nitrogen after flail shredding the rice stubble. He follows the nitrogen with a shallow flood until the second crop rice begins growing. “Then we bring the water up slightly and may add another 30 to 40 units.”

Flail shred idea

The idea of using a flail shredder on the main crop stubble came to Pederson in 1999. “I noticed that when I cut the rice high the second crop barely got out of the main crop stubble, and the heads were small,” he said. “We cut the rice high because we don’t want to put any more straw through the combine than we have to. More straw through the machine slows harvest speeds. We’re always in a rush to get the crop harvested at moisture levels that will insure the highest quality.

“The last year before we started flail mowing, I noticed better second crop rice in the combine tracks and areas that were cut lower. The ratoon crop was better there because it didn’t have any stubble blocking the sunlight to it. I decided I had to get rid of the stubble.”

Pederson chose a flail shredder because it chops the straw into small pieces and deposits it where it stands. It also gets rid of the clumps and piles left behind choppers and spreaders. “It does a much better job of distributing the residue,” he notes. Texas rice farmers are always looking for candidates for good second crop rice, and Clearfield XL8 may help fill that bill.

“We’re very dependent on the second crop,” says Pederson. “If it doesn’t second crop, most of the guys around here won’t grow it. You can use Clearfield XL8 to clean up red rice problems and get good main crop yields, but the second crop is where it really shines.” v On the day Pederson was interviewed, bright sunshine was turning the rice a golden color. “We’ve had plenty of sunshine this fall, ideal weather for the second crop,” he says. “It rained the entire month of June, and we couldn’t put fertilizer out when we needed it on the first crop. This had a negative effect on the first crop yields. I’ve noticed over the years that fields that don’t make yield expectations in the first crop often make up for it in the second crop. Most of the fields were that way in 2004.”

The Franzes are planning to flail mow most of their main crop rice when they begin harvest in the next few days. “We leased a shredder last year, and it looks like we’re going to buy the same shredder to use on this year’s crop.”

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