Louisiana Rice: Great Start But Rains Add Challenges

    Past date-of-planting trials at the H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station indicates that the optimum planting window to maximize rice yields in Southwest Louisiana begins March 10 and ends April 15.

    Wet soil conditions in late February and through the first two weeks of March prevented any rice from being drill planted. Several acres of water-seeded rice was planted during that time period. It seemed that the soil would never dry, looking at the early March forecast, and planting was going to be way behind schedule for 2019.

    Predicting the weather is a lot like herding cats, I really don’t know anyone who is good at it. When it comes to weather and farming, I guess we should always expect the unexpected. Unexpectedly, we missed several rain possibilities in the region, and around March 15 many rice growers south and central Louisiana were able to start drill-planting rice.

    In fact, the weather stayed dry for approximately two and a half weeks. During that dry window there was a considerable amount of rice planted in the state. The optimum window for planting rice in northeast Louisiana begins April 1 and ends May 5.

    Some rice acres have been planted in that region however, mostly corn was planted during the dry spell and now growers will now switch their focus to rice. I would estimate that we are currently 70 – 75% planted in the state with the southern region nearing 90% completion. So, although the planting season started later than normal, today we are right on track.

    The unexpected and prolonged dry spell allowed tillage (many growers were behind on their winter and spring tillage) and herbicide applications to be done quickly and efficiently. Many growers did have to flush their fields to activate the residual herbicides and to provide soil moisture for even seed germination.

    The only true problem we faced so far this season was the fact that all this rice that was planted in a two-and-a-half-week time period will likely mature and be ready for harvest very close together. Unfortunately, we will not be able to harvest all fields as fast as we planted them, and this will cause some fields to be harvested at a lower grain moisture than optimum.

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    Optimum moisture to maximize harvest efficiency, reduce shattering, and maximize milling is 18-22%. As grain moisture gets lower, milling quality typically begins to drop, rice stalk strength tends to weaken as it dries and we can see more rain and wind caused lodging. Ratoon rice tends to come back slower too. However, we will wait until later in the season to see if this becomes a problem.

    Storms which left considerable rainfall totals moved across the state on April 4. Rainfall totals across the state for the 24-hour period ranged from less than 1- inch to over 8-inches. Most of Southwest Louisiana received 2- to 5-inches. My research location near Iowa, Louisiana, received 4-inches that morning.

    The current forecast has another system moving through on Sunday that has the potential to add a lot more rain. Fields are currently holding water and may not have a chance to drain completely before this new storm moves through. Although rice is grown in submerged fields, it cannot live under submerged conditions for an extended period of time.

    How long the rice can live underwater depends on the conditions and the stage of rice development. Consensus is that rice can live under submerged conditions about 8 days, but less if the rice is already stressed from other factors (herbicide, nutrient, insect, and disease), if the water is not clear, or if the water is excessively hot or cold.

    Getting the water off the fields will be the first real challenge of the 2019 the rice season.

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