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Properly draining rice fields to preserve quality crop

When it comes to rice field draining and harvest, bad timing can be costly.

“Proper harvest management preserves rice quality and yield that contribute directly to profit,” according to Keith Perkins, Lonoke County Extension agent for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. “The timing of field draining and harvest are keys to high head rice yields.”

There are three general criteria that should be met before a grower will be able to cease irrigation in a rice field.

• The field should be about 10 or more days past heading.

• Most the rice heads in the field should be laying over and the top kernels should be beginning to ripen.

• There should be adequate flood on the field that will prevent the rice from drought stressing during grain fill.

“If all three criteria are met, then farmers can consider stopping irrigation. However, if the weather forecast is for the next seven days is hot and dry, then the flood should be maintained for five to 10 more days.”

Perkins cautions that there are special situations for rice grown in heavy clay or light sandy soil. Depending on the situation, growers may see shorter and later cutoffs for irrigation. He urges growers to contact their county Extension office for specific recommendations.

Grain moisture at harvest is critical.

“The recommended harvest range to avoid quality or yield reductions is 17 percent to 21 percent moisture. Growers should plan combine capacity to be able to complete harvest by the time rice reaches 16 percent moisture.”

Higher or lower percentages may result in lower quality.

“The ends of wet rice kernels grind off and become dust as they are processed,” Perkins said. “Rice may crack if it dries to below 15 percent moisture.”

To learn more about recommendations for harvest, contact your county Extension office. Information is also available at

TAGS: Rice
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