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Rice acreage rebounds and starts 2001 strong
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Rice acreage is inching back toward 1999 levels, and April conditions helped propel the crop to a strong start for the 2001 growing season.
Mississippi growers planted 323,000 acres of rice in 1999 before poor market prices caused a 30 percent decline last year. This year, the prediction is for growers to plant 225,000 acres, about 5 percent more than in 2000.
Joe Street, Extension rice specialist at Mississippi State University's Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville, said the warm weather in April helped rice emerge earlier than normal.
"Earlier is probably good, depending on when the heat wave hits," Street said. "Rice begins heading 70 to 80 days after emergence, and you don't want to be in a heat wave then. Generally, the earlier rice will head before our summer heat waves."
Street said low soybean prices have contributed to the increase in rice acreage.
"Last year's drought resulted in growers having to irrigate soybeans more than normal. Some of them figure if they are going to be running water anyway, it might as well be for rice," Street said.
Street said despite last year's heat, the rice crop posted near-record yields of about 6,000 pounds per acre.
Nolen Canon of Tunica is president of the Mississippi Rice Council and chairman of the U.S. Rice Producers Association. He said while rice prices are "nothing to write home about," growers benefit from the loan and market loan programs available.
"Rice is historically a very consistent crop. Plus, there is some added stability in a program crop," Canon said. "Since rice is irrigated, you remove the unknown factor of how much rain you might get."
Canon, who recently received the Mississippi Network and Mississippi Farm Bureau's row-crop farmer of the year award, said he is optimistic about this season's rice despite increased production costs.
"The cost of production is up because of fuel prices," Canon said. "Rice is very energy-intensive and requires lots of fertilizer, which is also influenced by fuel costs."
Lack of spring rains have caused some fields to need to be flushed with water. Flushing improves emergence and helps activate fertilizers and herbicides.