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Rice battles herbicide injury, cool weather
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Cool spring temperatures may have contributed to an increase in herbicide drift damage to Mississippi's rice fields this year.
“We may have had more wind this spring, and the cold weather probably weakened the plants and made them more susceptible to drift,” said Don Respess, Bolivar County director for Mississippi State University's Extension Service. “Uninjured plants have responded well to fertilizer and water applied in the last weeks of May and are looking good.”
Drift damage occurs when herbicides applied over Round-Up Ready cotton and soybeans are blown to nearby rice fields.
Respess said some replanting has taken place because of drift damage, and some fields will be replanted in soybeans rather than rice. Statewide, rice acreage is expected to be 210,000 acres, which is about 20 percent lower than last year.
“Bolivar County growers are pretty committed to their rice crops. Our acreage won't be down as much as the rest of the state from a percentage standpoint, but we will be down,” he said. “Rice is such an important crop in our county's economy that any reduction will have a negative impact.”
Nathan Buehring, Extension rice specialist based in Stoneville, said drift has been a bigger challenge than weeds, insects or diseases.
“We have had to replant about 15,000 acres statewide because of herbicide injury. Another 20,000 acres were damaged, but farmers considered them more profitable to keep than to replant,” Buehring said. “In some cases, growers could have had as much as $100 per acre invested in a crop when the need to replant occurred. Then they would be looking at the possibility of lower yields from a later-planted crop, which could result in another $100 per acre loss.”
High production costs and low market prices contributed to this year's reduction in rice acreage.
“Last year, fuel and fertilizer costs ate into our rice profits. Plant damage from the two hurricanes slowed the harvesting, so it took longer to get the crop out of fields and combines used more fuel in the process.”
Buehring pointed out that fuel and fertilizer prices remain high this year, and these are necessary inputs that growers cannot cut from their budgets. Peak water season could see higher fuel prices than last year.
“Seedling disease has not been the problem it was last year. There have been minimal insect problems -- just rice water weevils on some fields with thin stands,” Buehring said. “Weed control has been excellent. It has been wetter than last year, which helps weeds actively take up the herbicides. The new herbicides worked well, and rains helped keep them active in the soil.”