South Louisiana's rice crop took it on the chin this year from a continuing drought and related problems. The coastal region has been in a dry pattern for much of the last three years, with deficits in some areas for 2000 running 8-9" at midyear.

With lower rainfall amounts through much of the state going into spring, there hasn't been enough surface water flowing to keep bayous and canals flushed. That led to saltwater intrusion, with brackish water backflowing farther inland than normal. The region's overall demand for water - for agriculture, industry and residentialuse - has steadily lowered aquifers and increased pumping costs.

At least 60,000 acres of rice weren't planted in the Acadian parishes due to a combination of the poor water supply and low rice prices, according to state estimates.

Some fields reportedly were abandoned in Vermilion Parish as water supplies ran out in early summer. To save his stands, one farmer reportedly was trying to move water 3.5 miles through canals and ditches in June.

Salt content further complicated efforts to control rice water weevil larvae. The pests developed in unexpectedly high numbers in early summer, about the time seed treatments wore out. One control option was to drain fields to kill larvae, but some areas lacked enough safe water to guarantee fields could be reflooded and farmers had to sustain damage.

Lobbying by grower groups prompted USDA to widen drought aid programs to include rice growers who had been previously left out because they don't depend directly on rainfall to make a crop.

Arkansas Farmers Tread Water

While many other parts of the South suffered from too little rain this season, much of Arkansas had the opposite problem before the Fourth of July. Too much precipitation delayed early planting to the point that there will be a narrower difference than normal between single and doublecrop planting dates in a wide part of the state.

The problem has been most apparent in central Arkansas. Parts or all of some fields have been replanted two to three times. Persistent rains and heavy storms drowned out one attempt after another to make a stand. On the Sunday before July 4, it wasn't uncommon to get behind grain drills on the highways west of Memphis.

The rains pushed a large part of the full-season crop into June and also delayed wheat harvest and doublecrop planting. Dealers and consultants told of several farmers who mired up combines trying to take wheat out of the fields. Rains also forced many growers to delay herbicide applications, use higher rates and make multiple glyphosate treatments in Roundup Ready beans.

The excessive rains did provide emerging doublecrop soybeans with the best moisture reserve they've had in recent years. But late planting dates will have a negative effect on yields. And with little difference in average planting dates for single and doublecrop fields, more of the crop will mature in one big lump. That could complicate harvest, storage and shipping into the fall.

Ultra-Early Beans Catch It Right

We reported in late spring that one large farming operation in central Louisiana planted several thousand acres of Maturity Group IV soybeans in February, about a month earlier than normal.

Consultant Roger Carter with Agricultural Management Services in Clayton says that while the fields looked stressed and somewhat ragged from cool growing conditions in the spring, they bounced back as weather warmed. The fields also benefited from a drier than normal spring.

"These fields didn't have any of the deluges that we often can get during that part of the year," says Carter.

Going into the third week of June, stands were maturing rapidly and had reached 75% pod fill, with leaves on a few plants already beginning to turn. Carter was estimating at that point that the soybeans would be harvested sometime in the third week of July. Potential yield going into pod fill was 35-plus bu/acre, he estimates.

"All are Roundup Ready varieties and were fairly clean except for smartweeds," says Carter. "We don't expect them to be harvested where smartweeds are the thickest."