COLLEGE STATION – The state's rice producers are crossing their fingers and holding their breath hoping the ideal weather lasts, according to experts with Texas Cooperative Extension.

Kelby Boldt, Extension agent in Jefferson County, said the warm, sunny conditions are perfect for planting, and producers are hurrying to plant the last seeds.

"About 90 percent to 95 percent of our rice is in the ground, and most of it is up," said Chris Schneider, Extension agent in Jackson County.

Bob Papanos, vice president of the United States Rice Producers Association, said this is true for most of the state. However, past dry weather delayed some planting. Producers wanted to be finished planting by April 15, he said.

"If the crop is planted after optimum planting dates, it is more susceptible to disease, insects and other problems reducing the opportunity to produce high yields," Schneider said.

Boldt said Texas producers are facing more challenges than inclement weather. Local producers will plant less than 15,000 acres this year, he said. "That's down, way down.”

The drop in production is due to the low price of rice, Boldt said. "Production costs are way up and the price of rice is low."

Even when prices are high, producers face many pests and diseases, Schneider said. "Blast, sheath blight, narrow brown leaf spot and brown spot are several of the disease problems," he said. "Rice water weevil, stem borers, chinch bugs and stink bugs are several of the insect problems."

Fungicides and insecticides are tools for fighting these diseases and pests, Schneider said. Quadris, Stratego and Tilt are commonly-used fungicides, while popular insecticides are Karate Z, Mustang Max and Sevin.

Producers do not have an alternate crop to plant, Boldt said. Producers will either let their land lie fallow or will graze cattle on it, Papanos said.

Texas rice is dry seeded with a drill or broadcast and flushed as needed until it is permanently flooded, Schneider said. "Texas ranks fourth nationally, (in rice production,) behind Arkansas, California and Louisiana," he said. Texas producers planted an estimated 216,810 acres of rice in 2004.

Texas rice acreage is expected to be around 200,000 this year, Papanos said.

The following livestock, crop and weather conditions were reported by Extension districts:

PANHANDLE: Soil moisture is short to adequate. Temperatures were above average. Isolated thunderstorms with rain and hail were reported. High winds caused rapid evaporation of surface soil moisture. Corn planting made good progress. The crop was 25 percent planted and stands are rated good to excellent. Wheat was 25 percent headed and rated good to excellent. Dryland wheat needed significant rain to continue to make good progress. Some hail damage was reported. Rangelands continued to green up and were rated fair to good. Cattle were rated fair to good. Horn fly infestation levels rose.

SOUTH PLAINS: Soil moisture is short to adequate. Warm, clear weather was reported. Winds sapped soil moisture. Land preparation and pre-irrigation continued. Corn planting was in full swing. Winter wheat was rated fair to good. Rust continued to be a problem. Some wheat was cut for hay. Many producers will soon begin planting cotton and peanuts. Pastures and rangelands were rated fair to good. Cattle were doing well with good weather conditions.

ROLLING PLAINS: Soil moisture is short. Temperatures were cooler. Pastures looked better with recent moisture. Livestock were in fair condition with spring cattle work being done. Some planting began. Peanut and cotton farmers prepared for planting. Wheat and oat fields were baled. Alfalfa fields were watered. Baling will begin soon. Horn fly populations were growing, but heel fly infestations are a bigger irritant. Horse breeding continued. Livestock and calves looked good but forage is low. Cattle numbers are being reduced and yearlings are being shipped off wheat fields. Heavy stocked fields are getting short. Rangeland conditions were declining with lack of spring rain. Weeds continue to be a problem. Hot, dry weather is causing die back. Watermelons were planted.

NORTH: Soil moisture is short to adequate. Mild weather conditions and light morning dews were reported. Corn, soybeans and wheat were rated fair to excellent. Corn was 60 percent to 100 percent emerged and needed rain. Wheat was 20 percent to 90 percent headed. Sorghum and soybeans were 40 percent to 100 percent planted. Cotton and rice were 20 percent planted. Pastures and rangelands were rated good to excellent. Rain is needed. Early season hay will be harvested soon. Cattle body condition improved with spring grasses.

EAST TEXAS: Soil moisture is short to adequate. Seasonal weather prevailed with no significant rainfall. Topsoil began to dry out. Pastures were in good condition. Warm season grasses showed signs of growth. Producers planted coastal. High fertilization costs were reported. Horn fly infestations were reported. Livestock were rated good. Early vegetable crops were harvested.

FAR WEST: Soil moisture is short to adequate. Warmer weather and winds continue to decrease soil moisture. Pastures, rangelands and livestock were rated poor to good. Winter wheat was rated fair to good. It is completely emerged and headed. Producers are preparing to begin planting other crops by the end of the month.

WEST CENTRAL: Soil moisture is short to adequate. Warmer daytime and cooler nighttime temperatures were reported. Extremely high drying winds depleted soil moisture. Cotton producers put down herbicides. Sorghum planting was in full swing. Pastures and rangelands did very well. Spring green up has started. Winter weeds and cool season grasses browned out. Small grains matured rapidly and were being grazed or baled. Some improved varieties of hay-grazer were planted. Wheat fields had little disease damage due to rains in the past months. Corn was being planted. Cattle movement has increased due to lack of rainfall. Livestock are in good condition. Pecan trees are in full leaf. Tent caterpillars caused some concern. Fruit set looked good on trees.

CENTRAL: Soil moisture is short. Pastures and rangelands provided quality grazing and cattle condition improved rapidly. Pecan and peach trees progressed well. Wheat rust was reported. Some chinch bugs and rootworms were reported in corn. Hay grazer planting was nearly complete. Cotton planting was winding down.

SOUTHEAST: Soil moisture is short to adequate. Dry weather and cool evenings were reported. Cool season annuals are flowering and producing seed. Foliage-feeding worms continued to feed on landscapes. Pastures started to show some stress. Pasture fertilization continued. Rice crops looked good.

SOUTHWEST: Soil moisture is short. The region has been dry since March 5. Pastures and rangelands are showing stress. High winds aggravated the moisture problem by drying soil surfaces and tender young plants. Some fields and home lawns are showing signs of mid-summer dormancy. Cotton, corn, sorghum and spring vegetables are making good progress under heavy irrigation. Some wheat is drying down. Yields are predicted to be highly variable. Onions, watermelons and cantaloupes make good progress with irrigation. Cabbage harvest wound down. Potato harvest is gaining momentum. Yield and quality are good.

COASTAL BEND: Soil moisture is short. Warm, dry and windy days were reported. Early planted grain sorghum is growing well. Winter grasses began to head out and clovers were abundant. Spring calving is almost complete.

SOUTH: Soil moisture is very short. Row crops are stressed due to very dry conditions. Producers are applying irrigation to crops. Rainfall is needed by all producers, but onion harvesters are hoping the rain will hold off. Spring onion, carrot, cabbage, greens and citrus harvest continues. Cotton and grain are growing well.