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Rice harvests are high, but prices remain low
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Rice fields in Mississippi may be headed for the second straight year of record harvests, giving producers a reason to celebrate National Rice Month in September.
“The rice that we've cut so far has been real good to excellent,” said Nathan Buehring, rice specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “We have a long way to go before we're done, but things have fallen in line pretty well for us this year.”
The state had a record average yield of 7,000 pounds of rice - 156 bushels - per acre last year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture projects a 2007 average yield of 7,100 pounds - 158 bushels - per acre, which would be a new record.
Most of the state's 175,000 acres of rice were planted by April 15, giving the crop an early start. About 20 percent of the crop had already been harvested by the first week of September.
“The current rain has slowed harvest a little bit,” Buehring said. “If the weather turns around and we don't get a hurricane or really strong rains, we should get a very good rice crop harvested.”
Rain muddies fields and can lay the rice stalks over, making them much more difficult to harvest and providing an opportunity for quality to drop as the rice lays on moist ground.
Buehring said insects posed few problems this year, and only a few fields of early-planted rice were sprayed for stinkbugs. Disease was a problem after rains in July, but the return of hot, dry weather stopped the spread of most disease.
August's 100-degree daytime temperatures and nighttime temperatures in the high 70s appears to have not significantly impacted rice yields so far. High temperatures when rice is pollinating can prevent grains from forming, a condition known as blanking, but most rice was past pollination when these temperatures set in.
All of the state's rice is grown in the Delta, and with about 55,000 acres this year, Bolivar County continues to lead the state in rice acreage. Ben Spinks, Bolivar County Extension director, said he has heard some producers are harvesting 200 bushels or more per acre in some fields.
“These are not records, but we've got some real strong yields coming in that may make up for low prices in the rice market,” Spinks said.
Steve Martin, Extension agricultural economist at the Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville, said rice prices have risen from $10.50 per hundredweight over the summer to November futures of $11.29 in early September.
“Other crop prices have gone up, but rice hasn't caught on as well,” Martin said. “I feel that as long as these other prices stay up, rice will have to go up as well to ensure acreage doesn't decline in 2008.”