Arkansas Rice: Rains Slow Planting, Which May Not Be a Bad Thing

    A seed drill leaves a pattern in the soil where rice seed has been planted. Photo: Bruce Schultz, LSU AgCenter

    Rice was actually planted this past week in what amounted to only a few day window for some.  Unfortunately, things look a lot like the past two springs in terms of making any progress.  While there has been more field preparation this year than prior to the 2019 and 2020 seasons, there is still a long way to go with April just around the corner.

    The earliest rice planted in 2020 was water-seeded, so at least it’s a good sign that we were actually able to drill the first rice in 2021.  Rice acres are still expected to be down this year, but certainly just how much is up in the air.  A dry April run could lead to more acres than expected, but continued wet conditions will certainly point to a further drop in rice and push for more soybeans.

    Fig. 1 shows that we’re still staring at more rain right up to the beginning of April.  Not the kind of answer we’re looking for, but maybe we’ll luck into a warmer, drier April this year after the extremely cold and wet April of 2020.  We can hope, right?

    3-25-21 7-day precipitation forecast

    Fig. 1.  7-day precipitation forecast, NOAA. Click Image to Enlarge

    Planting Dates

    There is a wide range of variability in the rice ground out there in terms of planting readiness.  Limited tillage was performed in the fall but some made large strides.  Still others have been able to take advantage of extremely small windows over the past few weeks to move things along.

    Overall, very little ground is truly “slicked off and ready to plant”, but still more acres just need to be finished up and then they’ll be ready to go.

    AgFax Weed Solutions

    Given that we’re now reaching the end of March and with more rain scattered in the forecast to April, it appears as though it will be another slow start this year.  The upside to slow planting progress for rice is that it has recently been translating into some very good yields.

    A number of recent years have had slower planting progress than many would prefer, yet our average yields remain very high each of those years (Fig. 2).  As long as mild conditions hold out into the growing season, the end result can still be a good one.

    Traditionally, planting date research shows that the earlier we plant, the better our yield potential (Fig. 3).  Like most things, exceptions to the rule show up from time to time and 2020 was that exception.  Planting date studies in 2020 showed that it was best to plant in the latter part of April into early May.

    Even mid-May plantings performed similar to mid-April plantings.  Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.  This strange occurrence does help to explain some of the erratic yields reported in 2020.

    Any time from here on that it dries up is a good time to start planting rice when you get the chance.  Earlier planting can come with higher yield potential but can also come with additional herbicide costs and the risk of stand reductions.  The later we go we can start to lose yield potential and in some years the yield drop off as we get to mid-May and beyond is substantial.

    I’m most concerned about field conditions as we prepare the ground and when we go to plant.  Field work before the ground is “ready” (dry enough) can lead to compaction issues and result in uneven field surface.

    Planting before the ground is ready carries less risk with newer drills as they’re much better at closing the furrow even when the ground is sticky.  As long as the furrow is closing and we’re not picking up too much soil with gauge wheels it’s generally good to roll.

    2010-2020 Rice Planting Progress

    Fig. 2.  2010-2020 Arkansas rice planting progress by week of year. Click Image to Enlarge

    2017-2020 Diamond and XP753 Relative Yield by Planting Date

    Fig. 3.  Diamond and XP753 relative yield by planting date from 2017-2020 in planting date studies at Stuttgart and Pine Tree research stations. Click Image to Enlarge

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