When rice is attacked by blast, sheath rot, brown leaf spot or any other disease, yields and quality can be squelched. Ken Danklefs takes no chances, especially with the threat of disease resistance, a growing concern.

The Garwood, Texas, grower makes sure seed is treated with a fungicide to help seal off threats from rice yield robbers. And treatments are working.

Danklefs farms all rented or leased land and grows 100 percent rice on 800 to 850 acres. His main and second ratoon crops provide a combined annual yield of 12,000 to 14,000 pounds per acre.

“Our main crop yields from about 58 to 62 barrels (1 barrel equals 162 pounds) per acre,” he says. “The ratoon crop is 20 to 25 barrels. Nearly all rice is grown from hybrid seed. And about 30 percent of my crop is organic.”

Organics are grown on ground that has had no non-organic products applied for at least three years. Organic crops aren’t treated with insecticides or fungicides, nor sprayed with any non-organic products, he says.  

However, fungicides provide a lot of insurance for conventional seed, Danklefs says. “If it’s not organic, we treat it,” he says. “We need to prevent stand loss from disease resistance that may appear, since with hybrids we’re only planting 20 to 25 pounds of seed per acre, compared to normally planting 65 to 70 pounds per acre with varieties. We primarily use Maxim and Apron (fungicides). They seem to do a good job for us.”

Seed treatments have helped many Texas rice farmers beat back disease. With help from the USDA-ARS, the rice plant pathology team at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Beaumont started a new disease screening program in 2010. It is designed to use new disease nurseries at multiple locations for extended research.

Danklefs monitors research from the stations, as well as other AgriLife Extension information on insecticide treatments for rice. “We have seen good control from Nipsit INSIDE insecticide treatment for rice water weevil. That insect eats the rice root when it is young and can decimate a field,” he says. “It is very economical. Dermacor is used if we see a stalk borer problem developing. Luckily we haven’t seen much of it, but we sometimes use Mustang Max or Karate spray applications at boot stage.”

He says the rice stink bug and rice water weevil are probably his biggest insect problems, “and we need to stay on top of them.”

Danklefs’ applies about 95 units of nitrogen early in the year to the main crop of hybrid rice. He adds an additional 60 units at heading to help fill grains and push the ratoon crop. “That second application induces the plant to put out more tillers for the ratoon crop from the base of the plant,” he says.

In his area west of Houston, planting is normally about March 10, compared to February plantings further south. His first cutting is normally the last week of July through the second week of August. The ratoon crop is harvested from Oct. 15 on.

Where's the water?

The dreadful droughts of 2011 and 2012 have added to the region’s thirst for more water. Most rice is flooded from a series of canals that feed from northern reservoirs. But urban sprawl has seen regions around Austin and other areas demand more water.

“Our Texas population has skyrocketed,” Danklefs says. “Demand for water has increased tremendously. But no new reservoirs have been built on the Colorado River Basin to compensate for this growth. There is less water for farmers.”

The result has been 50,000 fewer acres planted in rice in some production areas. “Those 50,000 acres not only support farmers, but they also support their employees, employees at mills where we market our rice, truckers who haul it and many others in our small communities,” Danklefs says.

“It’s also an environmental issue. About 1.2 million water fowl migrate into our area. Many of them won’t have a place for migration.”

So with the threat of even less water available if another drought strikes the region, Danklefs sees an even greater need to become better farmers. “We depend on treated seed and other inputs to help us produce the highest yields possible with a reasonable cost of production,” he says.

“We know we’ll have to become more efficient to remain profitable.”