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Rice growers protect quality and quantity
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Without any improvement in rice prices this year, growers depend more on government support and are hoping the quality and quantity of the 2002 crop will make a big difference in their bottom lines.
John Anderson, agricultural economist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said current market prices for rice are running around $4 per hundredweight, compared to about $5 at this same time last year, or about 17 percent lower. With a projection for a larger-than-expected national harvest virtually eliminating hope for any market improvement in the near term, growers certainly will depend on government payments to subsidize this year's production.
"The national average loan rate is $6.50. Currently, loan deficiency payments would run near $2.50 per hundredweight for rice," Anderson said.
James Smith, president of Delta Rice Services in Webb, said lower consumer demand has not improved prices from last year's low levels. While he predicts similarly strong yields, the quality should be much better than in 2001. Mississippi growers averaged a record 6,500 pounds per acre on 253,000 acres last year, despite potentially disastrous late-season rains. This year, weather conditions have been near perfect.
"Where we are making money this year is in the yield, not the price. Higher yields mean more gross income," Smith said
Joe Street, rice specialist at MSU's Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville, said neither diseases, weeds nor insects were the problems they could have been this year.
"Sheath blight is normally our major disease, but it just didn't cause a problem this year. Growers put out preventative treatments for smut that appear to have been effective," Street said. "Colder temperatures in May caused some weed challenges, but new chemistry helped us control the larger grasses. Stinkbugs threatened but haven't really developed. We're still watching for them in the later-maturing rice."
Growers are just beginning to harvest rice. Street encouraged growers to have plenty of equipment ready for an efficient harvest before low grain moisture becomes an issue. Moisture content should be between 16 and 20 percent; cracking can occur when moisture is below 16 percent.
"The primary question of the 2002 rice crop has been about fertility. Growers need to think about fertility now, before it really becomes a problem in the next few years," Street said. "Much of the soil nutrients leave the field with the grain harvest, so fertility is especially important in the higher-yielding varieties. We need to replenish those nutrients before they are depleted."
Street said in 50 years of growing rice, Mississippi farmers have not needed to add phosphorus or potash. However, to avoid significant expenses in the future, Street encouraged growers to consider a nutrient maintenance program now.
"We recommend growers submit soil tests as if they plan to grow soybeans, then follow the recommendations and that will be sufficient for rice as well," Street said.