Rice and Cotton Production
Today was probably one of the best days of the trip in my opinion. In the morning we visited Wheeler Rice Farms at the top end of the rice belt, which has just enough growing days for rice at around 150 days. On the farm there is 11,5000 acres and the crops grown are corn, rice and soybeans. The rice starts near Popular Bluff and follows the river down to the gulf and this area is known as the boot heel. Rice grows in that particular region due to the hot and wet weather as well as the clay soils, which are good for flooding. There are 3 types of rice, which are short, medium and long grain. The majority of rice grown is long grain but there are some medium rice grown as a specialty crop.
For management of rice a grade is applied to the field, as you do need to drain the water away from the soil. The grade is 1/10 of inch and the water is between 2 and 4 inches deep across the field. There is 30 cubic meters of water put onto the crop in a given year and that will fluctuate depending on the given rainfall. The rice is planted usually between April 1 and May 15th; the floodwater is applied after the rice tillers, which is similar to wheat. The rice is continuously flooded for the following 2 months until about 2 weeks before harvest when the water is drained and the soil is allowed to dry out. Once the rice is harvested the stubble that is left is the entire stem as the combine heads used for harvesting just pick the grains off the top and leave the stem standing. The remaining stalks and trash left in the field is then burnt as tillage would be time consuming and difficult due to the green nature of the stalks as well.
Wheeler Rice Farms is not too concerned with maintaining soil organic matter because with rice you don’t want organic matter, as it doesn’t hold on to the water, which would be problematic during flooding. The roots, which do decompose into organic matter, are over ½ of the plant matter that is left behind which means that there is still a fair amount of biomass available for decomposition.
There can be problems with disease and fungus within rice due to the lying water but there is usually no herbicide applied, as the water is an effective weed control method. Their rice fields are also walked once a week to monitor and this year they only had to apply 1 application of fungicide. The most common products that are used in rice are Command, Prowl, Newpath and Pursuit.
The typical harvest date for rice is around September 15th at moisture content of 20% and the drying it down to 13%. On farm there is enough storage for about 1.2 million bushels of rice. Each bin has a concrete floor with a channel in the middle to aid with airflow. The reason for having so much storage on site is due to the marketing times. Most rice is stored until the following summer even if you wish to move in December. Most of the rice goes to New Orleans from the Mississippi river on barges loaded from trains. From there the rice is sent to Mexico, Central America and Canada.
For our lunch stop today we were treated to a stop at Lambert’s Café, which is apparently the “only home of the throwed rolls”. This restaurant was interesting because they were actually throwing your rolls to you from across the room.
In the afternoon we had the chance to stop at a cotton farm and learning about its production practices from Danny. This farm has been in the family for 60 years and there are 7500 acres not all of which are growing cotton. The main crops grown in rotation with cotton are corn, soybeans and wheat. Cotton is a perennial, subtropical plant that can grow in semi arid conditions. It is usually planted in mid – late April as long as it is in by May 15th. Since cotton is a subtropical crop it doesn’t require a lot of water and silt loam soils are ideal.
An average yield of cotton would be anywhere from 1250 – 1300 lbs/acre. It takes 110 – 117 growing degree-days to finish cotton and around day 65 the blooms begin to turn to bolls. The normal planting population of cotton is 53,000 plants and you need about 150,000 bolls to make one bale. On an average boll 40% of that boll is lint and the other 60% is seed.
For harvesting, the Parker family chooses to use a cotton picker instead of a cotton stripper as the picker leaves you with a higher quality boll. Cotton is usually ready to be harvested the end of September – beginning of October. Three characteristics that measure the quality of the cotton are the length of the fibre, the colour and the staple string. Growers are based on a standard and then are given a premium or are discounted based on the quality of the cotton.
My first learning point for the day is about synthetic cotton. I knew synthetic cotton existed however, I did not realize that it is destroying the cotton industry as it has control over 95% of the total market. My second learning point for the day is also about the cotton industry and how it is really just a break-even business for the US now that the farm bill isn’t a subsidizing farmer. Danny filled us in on the economics of cotton and per boll you don’t make that much money. I don’t know what the cotton market is like in other countries but I can’t understand how someone can grow a crop that is only a break-even crop. My third learning point for the day goes back to our morning stop at Wheeler rice farms and learning about the production process of rice. Going into this visit I had a basic understanding that rice needed to be grown under flooded situations but I didn’t realize that most of the water applied was irrigated water.
Theme for today was about growing tropical, semi arid crops in a region that has the correct climate most of the time. I didn’t realize that the southern US had a semi arid region but it was interesting to experience it. My assessment of the visits today was that they were both very informative and exciting to visit. It was really interesting to be able to get into the field to see both crops.