It was a “rough” year for Arkansas’ rice crop, says Chuck Wilson, Arkansas Extension rice specialist.

“We had a lot of yield loss and probably had more failures – and, to me, anything under 100 bushels is a failure – than I’ve seen in a single year. A lot of guys were hit hard.”

The latest USDA estimates say the state’s average yield will “be around 142 bushels per acre. That’s better than the August estimate, which I thought was too high. I think 142 bushels is pretty close.”

Much of the rice crop was planted early, but the heat and drought “played havoc. It was really hard to keep fields flooded. There were a lot of water shortage issues.”

Bacterial panicle blight was also widespread and “we had weed control issues because of the drought and wind. It was hard to get things done on time.

“Probably 1 million acres were planted over two weeks in April. That meant everyone was ready to spray and fertilize at the same time.”

Wilson suspected the crop was in trouble in mid-June. “I was driving around and saw areas of fields, hot spots, where rice was beginning to become severely drought-stressed. It was widespread – you could see problem spots in almost every field. Growers were unable to get water to those parts of fields.”

Later in the season, the crop began to look better. But Wilson “never had a good feeling about it. I thought the crop looked a whole lot better than it really was. My experience says that a combination of heat and drought doesn’t typically lend itself to high yields.”

Wilson says heat alone doesn’t explain the yield losses. Drought and water management also had a major impact.

“The heat and drought really put a strain on our irrigation capacity. This year, we planted more rice acres, 1.8 million, than we’ve ever planted. In many cases, a grower was trying to irrigate 80 acres of rice with a well that is designed to irrigate 60.

“Growers did all they could. But we overextended our capacity in a drought year. And you never know when drought will show up. If we’d caught some timely rains to help out the irrigation systems, I think we’d have had a different ending. That’s why I think the drought caused as much trouble as the heat.” 

On the back end of the season, harvest weather was excellent.

“There were maybe a couple of days of rain that kept us out of the field and there wasn’t a lot of dew. So, not only did we not have any rain, but on many days producers were able to start harvesting early in the day.”

Harvest was early “because of when the crop was planted and all the heat allowed the crop to develop quickly. We began cutting in early August and by early October we were almost done.”

Such an early, easy harvest also allowed some growers to try a second crop of rice.

“I don’t think it’ll be a long-term practice because things don’t usually line up in way that allows a ratoon crop. Still, my best friend cut some rice on Aug. 2. He harvested the ratoon crop (the week of Oct. 18) and cut about 75 bushels per acre.” 

Second crop yields are “all over the board just like with the main crop.”

Heath Long, who farms 800 acres of rice, along with soybeans and wheat in south Arkansas County, Arkansas, had a great second crop on some of his rice acres this season. “We cut the first crop so early (Aug. 2), I decided to put 100 pounds of fertilizer on one 47-acre field and made 89 bushels on the second crop.”

He also caught 3 inches of rain in the field, “so the fertilizer was all the money I had in it.”

Long said his rice was a couple of weeks ahead of normal this season. “I planted April 1, and it got ready quick. The first crop didn’t do as well as would have liked, and I don’t know why. It looked good, but it had some blanks. But I didn’t have a disaster.”

Long planted all his rice in the hybrid XL 723. “The hybrid helped on the second crop. The hybrids come back quickly.”