Optimizing Rice Yields and Quality

Steven Linscombe  |  2/14/2014 10:31:22 PM

LA Historical Rice Yields

Rice planting season will soon be upon us. Most producers would take a repeat of last year’s growing season, even with last spring’s difficult start. Louisiana rice growers set a statewide yield record of 7,300 pounds per acre (USDA estimates), and, in general, the quality of last year’s crop was good to excellent. This 7,300-pound average yield broke our previous yield record by several hundred pounds, which did not seem possible because of the difficulties at the start of the season.

We typically begin planting the rice crop in early March in south Louisiana, and most rice is planted by mid-April. North Louisiana is typically three weeks later. In 2013, we planted a great deal of the rice crop in March, which is normal. However, March of 2013 was anything but normal. The historical average nighttime low for the month of March is 51 degrees. Last year, the average nighttime low in March at the Rice Research Station was 41.6 degrees. These extremely cool conditions made it very difficult for rice to grow, and many cultural practices, such as herbicide applications, fertilizer applications and flood establishment, were delayed accordingly. In spite of these conditions, however, most fields finally established adequate and uniform stands, and eventually the warmer weather arrived, and growing conditions from that point on were close to ideal. Most importantly, we did not experience any extended periods of very high temperatures or excessive rainfall. We saw lower than normal sheath blight and cercospera disease pressure and very little blast and panicle blight disease (our four major diseases). All of these conditions combined to produce the very high yields and very good grain quality in last year’s crop. As well, our growing conditions in September and October were ideal for second crop production, and our second crop set an unofficial yield record.

So, as we plan for this year’s crop, what are some considerations to optimize yield and quality? First and foremost is planting date. In spite of last year’s difficult start, we still strongly recommend rice growers begin planting in early March in southwest Louisiana. We have been conducting date-of-planting studies at the Rice Station for many years, and, historically, our highest yields are associated with March and early April plantings. Typically, we recommend that seeding in this region be completed by April 15. Our recommended seeding dates in north Louisiana are April 1-May 5.

Variety selection is critical as well. Remember that today major emphasis is placed on rice grain quality so this should be a major consideration in variety selection. Using the proper seeding rate based on the variety being used, seeding date and other considerations is important as well. After deciding on a variety and seeding rate, another consideration is use of seed treatments. If drill seeding, the use of a recommended rate of gibberellic acid is recommended. This will enhance elongation of the rice seedling after germination and can facilitate early and uniform stand establishment. Most drilled or dry-broadcasted rice seed is treated with one or more fungicides, and this will also assist in stand establishment, especially under cool conditions. There are also three labeled seed treatment insecticides that will control the rice water weevil and other important rice insect pests. These insecticides vary in their effectiveness in controlling different insects, so this should be taken into consideration when deciding which to use.

Weed competition in rice fields is often one of the major constraints to optimizing yield and sometimes quality, so an effective weed control program is essential. Well over half of Louisiana’s rice acreage is seeded with varieties that contain the gene allowing for the use of the Clearfield system for the control of red rice and other rice weeds. If planting into a field where red rice is a problem, the use of this system is strongly recommended. However, whether or not Clearfield rice is planted, scouting your fields is essential for effective weed control. We are fortunate that several new rice herbicides have become available recently, which has expanded our options and allows for very good control of most weeds typically found in Louisiana rice fields. However, using the right combination of herbicides in a timely manner is essential for the most effective weed management. Also important is timely flood establishment and maintenance of the proper flood depth throughout the growing season. Other considerations include draining the field at the proper time prior to harvest and harvesting at the proper grain moisture. Post-harvest handling will also have major impacts on rice quality.

Rice is a difficult crop to grow and a misstep in any single area that has been discussed can have significant negative effects on yield and quality or perhaps even both. However, Louisiana rice producers are the best in the business, and given the right growing conditions, they can typically produce high yields of high quality rice. To assist producers in optimizing yield and quality, the LSU AgCenter publication 2014 Rice Varieties and Management Tips is available at LSU AgCenter Extension offices in rice producing parishes or at www.lsuagcenter.com. This publication has information to help in variety selection as well as details on most areas discussed in this article.

Permission granted February 14, 2014 by B. Leonards (LA Farm & Ranch) to republish article on www.lsuagcenter.com

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