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Rice producers hope for record three-peat
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi's rice crop is fighting off the challege posed by early cool temperatures, and growers are preparing to battle weed problems and high fuel costs.
Mississippi growers made record rice yields three of the last four years, and they would like this year's crop to make it three years in a row. State growers posted yield records in 2001 and 2003, then topped it last year with the current record of 6,900 pounds per acre.
Nathan Buehring, rice specialist at the Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville, said better varieties, new technology for controlling red rice and ideal weather were factors in each of the records. This year's crop went into the ground on time, but unseasonably cool weather delayed early growth.
"The biggest challenge from the cooler temperatures this year has been to get the crop established and uniform. The arrival of warmer weather is helping the crop make up for lost time, but we also will be looking at more grass and weed problems," Buehring said. "We haven't had much rain along Highway 82 in the last weeks of April and first of May. Under these drier conditions, pre-emergence herbicides are not as effective; therefore, flush-irrigation will be necessary to keep them active in the soil."
Another factor growers will contend with is high fuel and fertilizer prices. Don Respess is the Extension county director in Bolivar County, where a third of the state's rice is grown. He said higher fuel prices will take a bite out of profits, but growers will do what they must to produce a good crop.
"Higher fuel costs will increase the cost to pump water over fields and increase the cost of fertilizer," Respess said. "Rice is very dependent on large amounts of nitrogen fertilizer."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is predicting Mississippi's rice acreage to increase from 235,000 last season to 260,000 this year. However, the market favored soybeans over rice as growers made planting decisions this spring. The state's total may be closer to 240,000 acres since interest in soybeans has remained strong despite concerns about Asian soybean rust.
John Anderson, agricultural economist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said cash prices for rice are running near $7.25 per hundredweight. Harvest-time futures are $7.85 per hundredweight. Last year's crop averaged $7.30 per hundredweight.
"In May last year, rice was around $9.20 per hundredweight, but then it fell sharply in June and July," Anderson said.
The export market to Iraq has teased producers but been slow to materialize. Traditional export markets in Central and South America have begun to increase their orders and deliveries. There is still a large supply of last year's rice left in bins in the United States with only a few months before more is harvested.