Arkansas rice farmer Dow Brantley still plants about 20 percent of his 1200-acre rice crop in conventional tillage methods.

“Some fields just need to be cleaned up every year,” says Brantley, who farms near England, Arkansas. Brantley discussed his conservation tillage program at the recent Conservation Tillage Cotton and Rice Conference in Houston. That percentage may be a bit higher in 2005. “We had wet weather in the fall and got no field work done,” he says.

Brantley operates a diverse cropping system with rice, soybeans, cotton and corn. “I may cut back on soybean acreage because of soybean rust,” he says. “I’ll also increase rice acreage, possibly to 1,300 to 1,400 acres.”

He usually rotates two-thirds of his rice acreage on a 50-50 system with soybeans. The other third he runs in continuous rice.

“I’m starting my ninth year of rice on a zero-grade tillage system,” he says. He’s sold on reduced-till rice and says advantages include:

· Lower production costs

· More profit per acre

· Less labor demand (The same labor handles more acres.)

· Less wear on equipment

· More residue (That helps with more cotton.)

· Less red rice pressure, especially with continuous rice.

Brantley cuts rice straw and burns it after harvest. “I haven’t been able to plant into rice straw,” he says. “That’s why I burn it. I use an 8-foot hay cutter and go slow. I use a stripper header to harvest the rice.”

He prepares zero-grade fields for winter flood (November through March). He uses a burndown herbicide and says costs run from $10 to $12 per acre. On fields for soybean rotation he smoothes the levees and prepares for stale seedbed soybeans. He uses a straw chopper on his soybean combine to spread residue. Brantley applies burndown to conservation tillage fields in February.

“I plant rice slowly with a no-till drill, from 4.5 to 5.5 miles per hour. That helps with planting depth. Good drainage also is a key with this system.” He adds a pre-emergence to glyphosate, forms levees and re-applies a pre-emergence material. “On the zero-grade I hold the winter flood, pull it off in March and apply the burndown.”

He says in addition to proper drainage and slow planting speed, early burndown, careful identification of weeds and adding something like 2,4-D to the glyphosate make a big difference in success with the zero grade rice.”

He’s considering water seeding on the zero-grade fields. About one-third of his acreage last year was in Clearfield rice. “It works well,” he says.

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com