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Rice looking good, but heat is rising
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Rice farmers have a very good reason for hoping temperatures don't get any hotter than they are now: rice pollination is reduced when it's much above 95 degrees.
Joe Street, rice specialist in Stoneville with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said the crop was progressing well by the second week of July despite recent heat.
"We're actually a little ahead of schedule in a lot of cases," Street said. "Everything is looking good right now."
Much of the crop should be headed by the middle of July. Heading refers to the rice heads becoming visible above the stalk, then flowering and grain filling. Temperatures above 95 degrees can kill the pollen grains and prevent the rice grains from filling out as they should.
"It's been in the 70s at night, so early morning temperatures aren't that high and temperatures haven't yet been critical for rice," Street said.
Mississippi farmers planted an estimated 240,000 to 250,000 acres of rice this year. This is up from about 220,000 acres planted last year, but still down from the 318,000 acres planted in 1999. Street said rice acreage rotates with soybeans.
"Soybean prices are not good. It was dry when farmers were going to plant soybeans and they knew they'd have to water it anyway, so many decided to plant rice instead," Street said.
Rice prices are not looking any better than soybean prices. Rice is bringing $5.50 a hundredweight, which is about the same as it did last year but well below its five-year average.
Street said insects have not been a problem in rice, but he expects stinkbugs to become an issue soon. Stinkbugs puncture rice grains, allowing a microorganism to infect the area and cause a black spot. This rice, known as pecky rice, is safe to eat, but looks bad when packaged. Pecky rice prices are docked and the grain is diverted into other markets.
Disease has not been a problem, but Street said the new variety Wells is susceptible to blast. Less than 10 percent of Mississippi's rice crop is Wells, but the variety is being hit by the disease in Arkansas.
"We've detected the disease in research plots in Mississippi, but so far we've not had a problem in grower fields," Street said.
Gary Fioranelli, a partner in Fioranelli Brothers Farm in Bolivar County, said his rice crop is looking pretty good so far.
"The hot weather is making it move along real well this year," Fioranelli said. "It's a little grassy in spots, but we're only cleaning up the areas that we feel are going to hurt production. We're living with a little more grass than we otherwise would have."
Fioranelli said his crop appears to be about a week ahead of schedule.
"It's good anytime we can cut the wells off early, since energy prices are so high," he said.