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Rice production is tale of two crops
By Patti Drapala
MSU Ag Communications
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Rice production in Mississippi this year boils down to a tale of two different crops in the field.
Farmers typically start planting rice about April 1 of each year and conclude around May 15. This year, only 75 percent of the crop was in the ground when untimely rains came during the latter part of the planting window. The wet weather pushed rice planting well into June, which meant 25 percent of the crop suffered a late start.
“About 70 percent of the rice crop would be mature normally by early September,” said Nathan Buehring, Mississippi State University Extension Service rice specialist at the Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville. “Because one-fourth of the crop was planted late, only about 50 percent of the rice is at maturity.”
Despite the delays, farmers planted more than 210,000 acres of rice, up from 190,000 acres planted in 2007. Most of the rice is concentrated in Bolivar, Sunflower, Washington and Tunica counties, although rice is produced in every county in the Mississippi Delta, Buehring said.
He said cool temperatures in August slowed the maturity of the late-planted crop.
“We need temperatures in the 90s for the late crop,” he said. “The winds and water from Hurricane Gustav did not do as much damage as we anticipated, but we do not need any more wind or water that might cause harvesting problems.”
Wind presents a much bigger problem for rice than does excess rain. When rice stands straight up, the combine can cut off the plant heads containing the grains. Wind can flatten, or lodge, the plants, and this lodging means the combine must process more plant material.
“Lodging greatly slows the progression of the combines,” Buehring said.
Slower combines extend harvest operations, which can affect production costs already high because of fuel and fertilizer expenditures, said Extension agricultural economist Steve Martin.
“A farmer normally might harvest 40 acres of rice a day if the heads are standing up,” Martin said. “If the rice is down on the ground, he would slow to 10 acres a day.”
Some farmers in Bolivar County, which has 67,000 certified acres of rice, are seeing some fields with “down” rice. Overall, Boliver County's rice looks good, said Laura Giaccaglia, interim Extension county director there.
“Due to weather predictions, some farmers began harvesting even though the moisture rate was a little higher than what they really wanted,” she said. “With a little sunshine, farmers will be returning to the fields within a week.”
About 5 percent of the mature crop was harvested by Aug. 31, and farmers in some areas have reported yields of 175-180 bushels an acre, Buehring said. However, a significant proportion of the crop must be harvested before obtaining a true picture of rice yields for 2008, he said.
Farmers in Coahoma County, which saw a 10 percent increase over the 13,000 acres they planted in 2007, have indicated they are not having major problems with rice maturity or harvest.
“We're all right,” said Don Respess, Coahoma County Extension director. “We need to have some good weather now to get this crop out of the field.”
There could be another reason for the Delta's rice industry to welcome dry weather. The 18th annual rice luncheon, sponsored by Delta Rice Promotions Inc., is Sept. 19 in the Walter Sillars Coliseum at Delta State University. Tickets are $2 per person and can be purchased in advance from the Bolivar County Extension Office in Cleveland or at the door.