Controlling weeds and bugs while planting the highest performing variety was on the minds of some 500 farmers at the seventh annual Western Rice Belt Production Conference recently in El Campo, and specialists from three states delivered the latest news.

Researchers and Extension specialists from Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas agreed that the best use of pesticides and other inputs plus choice of varieties will make the difference this season – provided suitable weather occurs.

Dr. Garry McCauley, Texas AgriLife Research rice scientist, said rainfall at the Eagle Lake station is still well below average since measurements began in 1976.

"The lowest rainfall ever was in 2008, and we are still below average," McCauley said. "When we look at the month-to-month figures, there has never been a month with no moisture until October 2010."

He noted, however, that though yields dropped in 2010 from the previous year, 2009 had record yields averaging more than 8,000 pounds per acre.

"In 2010, yields were down to about 6,800 pounds per acre," he noted, adding that the later the crop was planted, the lower the yield. "A lot was planted late this year, and you can see how it tails off at the end. High yields were hard to come by."

But other than the unpredictable and fickle weather patterns, presenters brought good news to the farmers about possible new tools to battle pests.

Insecticides studied

Dr. M.O. Way, AgriLife Research entomologist at Beaumont, said two tests on as-yet non-labeled insecticides will be presented to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in hopes of getting special-use labeling approved.

Among the research was a study on rice stink bugs in Texas, he said.

"We did a study to prove that rice stink bugs in Texas are becoming harder to control with current insecticides," Way said. "So we coated vials with an insecticide we were testing and put rice stink bugs from different areas into the vials. We left them in the vials for four hours then recorded mortality."

Way said rice stink bugs from Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Louisiana and from the Beaumont region of Texas all were fairly easy to control with existing pesticides. Not so for stink bugs from Ganado and Round Mott in the southern end of the Texas rice belt. They were harder to control.

Insecticides currently not labeled for use in rice were better at controlling these bugs, so the research will be presented to the EPA for use in limited amounts and  various conditions.

Likewise, Way said, the long-horned grasshopper which feeds on both insects and rice was very abundant in Texas rice last year. So the research team captured them in fields, put them in wire cages and sprayed them. The treated grasshoppers were put on untreated rice and mortality counted.

Two products – Tenchu and Endigo – provided 100 percent death of the grasshoppers, Way said.

Among the more exciting developments for the growers is a nitrogen soil test for rice – previously not available.

Dr. Trent Roberts from the University of Arkansas said his team is working with AgriLife Research scientists to finalize the nitrogen test, called N-ST*R (pronounced instar).

"The goal is to give a recommended rate to maximize yields," Roberts said. "And that doesn't always mean using the highest amount of nitrogen. We look at 100-, 95- and 90-percent yield."

Depending on the cost of urea, Roberts said, it may be better to go with 95- or 90-percent yield because a farmer may not make enough yield to justify the extra urea cost (required for 100 percent).

Roberts said the test, which is still in development, uses an 18-inch-deep sample rather than the more common 6-inch soil sample. That's because the rice root tends to grow to that depth.

He showed results from a demonstration in which 150 pounds of nitrogen were applied per acre on a field that yielded 192 bushels per acre. But on a field that had the soil test, 95 pounds of nitrogen were applied per acre and the field yielded 195 bushels per acre.

"Not every field will result in a huge reduction of N use," Roberts said. "But we are going to give the farmer site-specific recommendations to maintain the yield at the best level for that field."

He said the test is "on the horizon" and the team is looking for full-field trials to test along with collaborating with researchers in other states such as with AgriLife Research scientists.

McCauley said the soil test for rice fields is a first that will give "an accurate projection of what we need to be doing. So we are moving forward trying to adapt this in the Texas condition."

ka-phillips@tamu.edu