Texas rice growers need drier conditions to harvest a main crop before quality begins to fade along with hopes for a second harvest, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Research expert.
Like many Texas crops along the Gulf Coast this growing season, persistent rains preceded major problems and concerns, said Lee Tarpley, AgriLife Research crop physiologist, Beaumont. The amount of rain is an issue, but the timing has also contributed to problems from reduced management effectiveness, lower solar radiation for plant development and muddy fields delaying harvest.
The combination of rain-related issues has lowered expectations about both the main and ratoon crop of rice this season, Tarpley said.
Tarpley said 20% of the days since March 1 have delivered at least 0.2 of an inch of rainfall, while another 20% delivered “measurable” amounts.
Fields are typically harvested by mid-August, and many producers with early planted fields prefer to have their crop in and begin managing for the ratoon crop by early August, he said.
As of July 30, only 7% of Texas’ rice crop was harvested, Tarpley said, which is close to the five-year average – 12% harvested by that date – but there are concerns that field conditions could further delay harvest.
“We had a very good beginning of the season,” he said. “Fields were planted early, and we were looking at an early July harvest in parts of the state, and a good ratoon crop. But we are behind at this point and several factors are working against rice producers this season.”
Texas rice: opportunity under pressure
Overall, Texas rice acres are down slightly, 174,000 planted acres, compared to 183,000 in 2020, Tarpley said. The 2021 planted rice acreage is closer to the five-year average of 178,000 planted acres.
Market prices for Texas rice are also just under $1 per pound higher, $13.83 per pound, compared to the five-year average, $12.84 per pound, Tarpley said.
Despite better market conditions for rice, above-average moisture and subsequent field conditions since late spring have dampened outlooks.
Tarpley said harvest delays related to rain have pushed grain maturity beyond the ideal harvest stage with some concern about grain sprout, which can lead to quality issues and docked prices for farmers.
Disease, weed and pest pressures have also been higher than most years, Tarpley said. Field access has not been the main issue since most fields are treated via aerial crop applications. He suspects constant rains have shortened or reduced treatment effectiveness.
Tarpley said Texas rice producers have not been hit by armyworms at levels seen recently in Arkansas, the nation’s top rice-producing state. Still, that insect pressure has contributed to anxiety surrounding yields.
“Our AgriLife Research plant pathologist Dr. Xin-Gen Zhou said the plant disease has been the worst he’s seen in 10 years,” he said. “We’re seeing sheath blight, and there are concerns about kernel smut to go along with pest and weed control issues. We don’t know exactly what the issues are there, but it could be rain delays, rain impacting efficacy or producers putting off applications for a better day that doesn’t come.”
Cloudy days and too little sunshine are also expected to contribute to lower yields this season, Tarpley said. Solar radiation levels have been 8%-9% below normal, which impacted plant photosynthesis and productivity.
Ratoon crop in question
Tarpley said difficulties and delays related to the main crop are likely to spill into yields produced by the ratoon crop. Rice fields are typically cut to 8-to-10-inch stubble height during the main harvest, and new growth from the stubbles’ lower nodes typically produces decent secondary yields.
But delayed harvest can lead to higher cuts, which means the ratoon crop is produced from upper branches, Tarpley said. The upper branches can bring grains to maturity quicker, but yields are much lower.
Some producers are choosing to enter soggy fields to harvest, which Tarpley said is not ideal for the main harvest or the ratoon crop. Ruts reduce ratoon acreage, can lead to uneven water distribution in fields and cause nonuniform cuts as combines harvest on uneven ground.
Despite lowered yield expectations, Tarpley said the cooler weather and moisture have allowed producers to maintain flooded fields, which likely helped uniform plant progress. It’s difficult for irrigation to keep up with evaporation during drier, hotter summer conditions.
There are also some new rice varieties available from another seed company, which is likely to lead to competition and possibly better seed prices for growers in the future, he said. Up to 80% of Texas’ rice crop was grown from seed supplied by one company at one point.
“Better prices are another bright spot, but overall, conditions have not been ideal for Texas rice growers,” Tarpley said. “It’s been a difficult year, but hopefully the weather will cooperate enough over the next few weeks so that producers can get their crops in before any major quality issues and take advantage of that market.”
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Hot and dry conditions continued. Topsoil conditions were declining. Corn and sorghum crops were maturing very rapidly. Corn stalks were starting to collapse and harvesting operations have begun. About 5%-10% of corn was harvested so far. The first sorghum fields were being harvested as well. Some fields were already prepared for late-summer and winter forage plantings. Cotton was developing very well from the heat over the past couple of weeks. Fall armyworm spraying occurred but was tailing off. Some insecticide spraying was ongoing on cotton. Hay was being cut and baled. Pastures and range were doing well. Tanks were full, and cattle were in good body condition.
Conditions were mostly dry and hot, with pop-up showers here and there, and temperatures reached 100 degrees. Wise County reported up to 4 inches of rainfall and flooding. Hay progress was slowly coming along with haygrazer harvest and second cuttings of grasses. Cotton was looking better with the heat and drier weather. Dryland cotton continued to look better from recent rains. Irrigated cotton was setting bolls, and watering resumed. Fleahoppers were present in cotton. Farmers were still attempting to salvage part of the wheat crop as it dried out. Pasture conditions looked very good for late July, but some hayfields were showing heat stress. Grasshoppers were also a problem in pastures. Sorghum and peanuts looked good. Growth in some sorghum fields was uneven, with some plants turning color and others coming out of the boot stage. Aphids were not a problem so far. Cornfields were behind schedule due to late plantings but looked very good. Calves made good gains over the past few weeks.
Hot and dry weather allowed crop harvests to resume. Grain sorghum harvest was underway amid producer frustrations with wet field conditions, grain sprouting and inconsistencies in grain grading at the grain elevators. Grain sorghum income losses continued to add up due to quality and bushel weight reductions and lower bushel prices. Some sprouted sorghum was waiting on insurance claims. Corn harvest was underway, and yields were good. Cotton looked good, and bolls were opening in many fields. Rice was nearly all headed out and close to harvest. Hay harvest was also active, with good yields reported. Armyworm reports decreased. Soybean harvest was coming soon. Cattle remained in excellent condition.
Scattered rainfall slowed hay production in some areas, while others were glad to receive it. Subsoil and topsoil moisture was adequate. Hay production was in full swing despite delays and heat. Smith County reported dry soil conditions. Pasture and rangeland conditions were good to excellent. Livestock were in good overall condition with plenty of grass to graze on. Armyworm infestations continued to be a nuisance in pastures and hay meadows. Wild pigs remained a problem.
Sporadic rain and hail were reported across the district. Several pumpkin fields and cotton fields were a total loss after the hailstorm. Cotton was in good condition. Producers were busy spraying, trying to control weeds and applying growth regulators to cotton fields. Some farmers planned to start up irrigation systems soon. Cattle were in good condition. Pastures were in good to excellent condition.
Hot, dry weather was causing moisture stress in crops. Northern areas soil moisture while central and southern areas reported short to adequate soil moisture conditions. Pasture and rangeland were in fair to good condition. Corn conditions were good to excellent. Sorghum, cotton, peanuts and soybeans were all in good condition.
Topsoil moisture was adequate to short. Temperatures were very hot. There were some isolated showers in areas and a few thunderstorms reported across the district. Corn and grain sorghum fields progressed with more heading and coloring reported in grain sorghum. Livestock were in good condition, and pastures were holding up well for late July. Problems with armyworms in pastures and hay meadows continued.
Temperatures were cooler with many days averaging between the lower 80s to low-90 degrees, but temperatures did reach 100 degrees a few days. Widespread rainfall continued across the district, with 0.5-5 inches reported. Conditions continued to improve thanks to an active monsoon rain season. Rangeland looked excellent for the few operations that graze. Irrigated pastures provided the most grazing and were looking very good. Farmers were battling weeds and grasses in crops due to rainfall, but soggy field conditions were making access difficult. Pecan orchards benefited somewhat from rains, but cotton and alfalfa farmers want more sun and heat. Cotton cultivation and ground rig spraying slowed down. Uncut alfalfa was weedy and was expected to worsen with the heavy rain. Producers continued to feed livestock and wildlife.
There were mixed reports of hot and dry weather as some counties continued to receive timely rains that improved rangeland and soil moisture conditions. Grasshoppers and other insect pest problems continued in hay fields and in home landscapes. Overall, growing conditions remained good, and the hay harvest was back in full swing. Sales of fed cattle disappointed many. The slowdown in feed yard placements triggered a large rally in feeder cattle prices. Grain prices were expected to continue to impact replacement prices.
Armyworms continued to be an issue in Walker, Grimes and San Jacinto counties. Hay producers were taking advantage of the dry spell to harvest hay. Some producers were making their first cutting. The heat was reducing the production of spring-planted tomatoes, while southern peas and okra production were increasing. San Jacinto reported 100-degree days were cooking pastures despite moisture in the soil profile. Rice harvest was expected to begin soon. A few combines were running, but most of them were fighting green rice. Uneven stands in the spring were leading to uneven mature rice fields. Rangeland and pasture ratings were very poor to excellent, with good ratings being most common. Soil moisture levels ranged from very short to surplus, with adequate being the most common.
Widely scattered showers were reported across the district. Precipitation amounts ranged from traces up to 3 inches. Rangeland and pasture conditions were good. Corn and sorghum harvests continued. Guadalupe County reported average to good sorghum yields. Medina County reported that irrigated and dryland cotton looked good. Producers were bailing hay where moisture levels allow. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Caldwell County reported that cattle prices were down while sheep and goats remained steady. Kendall County reported stomach worm problems in sheep, goats and wildlife due to the rainfall this summer. Fawn sightings were abundant.
Warm weather continued, with scattered showers reported. Temperatures reached beyond 100 degrees. Grain sorghum harvest was underway and moving along quickly. Corn harvest was starting. Live Oak County reported 80% of grain sorghum and 50% of corn were harvested. Corn maturation was slowed by rainfall in some areas, and harvest was expected to extend into September. Grain producers were optimistic about yields and prices. Fieldwork for small grains was underway, and hay was being cut and baled as quickly as possible. Cotton yields continue to look promising with much of the crop setting bolls and reports of big bolls. Fieldwork by strawberry growers was expected to begin soon. Peanuts continued to develop pods under irrigation. Weed problems were reported in various crops. Pasture and rangeland conditions were good to excellent, but conditions were declining in some areas that had not received rain over the past few weeks. Supplemental feeding was starting in some areas, and stock tanks were beginning to decline some. Cattle were in good condition. Calves were making good gains, and cattle markets were strong for calves, bulls and cull cows. Citrus producers continued to make difficult decisions related to uprooting trees damaged by the winter freeze and whether to replant citrus or go in with a different crop. Cactuses were putting out tuna berries which help wildlife nutrients. Native and non-native grasses have put on seed heads following recent rains. Sorghum food plots finished seeding out. Wildlife, including quail and deer, were doing exceptionally well for this time of year due to the abundance of food and cover. Hunter numbers were expected to be up this season.