Day 12 - Thursday
Rice, Buns and Bolls!by: Kim Hooey, Jaclyn Pynenburg and Matt Smyth
Day 12 brought us to the alluvial plain of the Mississippi river and the Ozark Mountains; an ancient mountain range estimated to have been the beginnings of North America – and the ideal place to grow rice and cotton! The perfect soil environment created by these geological aspects presents a bed of clay that forms an impermeable layer for water to sit on with variable types of topsoil throughout the area. Water use is heavy for both of these crops (especially rice) so it is ideal to have a deep aquifer just 70-100 feet below the surface that is accessible at all times of the year, and has saved the crop through this year of drought.
Sam Atwell, a rice extension specialist with the University of Missouri, met up with the group on a farm just outside Poplar Bluff, MO with crop consultant Wendell Minson and Kim Winder a rice marketer. Under the heat of the sun students got a chance to learn the intricacies of rice production, a crop that is not generally perceived to be grown in North America. However, the USA produces approximately 3 million acres of rice every year, and is in the top 5 of world exporters, yet produces less than 2% of world production. There are several different ways of growing rice including paddy-style, furrowed, and stair step – the most common in Missouri. Stair step style includes leveling a field and creating a 1-inch drop over every 200 ft to "create a big bathtub." Maintaining the levels are important to prevent water grades infield, as 4 inches of water is desired for most of the growing season to prevent weed growth and for plant health. Planting rice is done two ways in Missouri, by plane or the more common way of drilling the seed with ground equipment. The seeds, when applied by plane, are pregerminated and broadcast over a flooded field, whereas ungerminated seed is drilled into a dry field. Technology and gene enhancement has reduced planting from 120 to 20 lbs per acre thanks to hybrids that with greater tillering (9 to 15). Several applications of nitrogen are applied at key growth stages to enhance crop yield and health.
Missouri grows a majority of long grain rice while medium and short grain rice are grown in the USA as well. Asia and Mexico are major importers of processed rice as well as Canada. Rice comes off the field averaging 155 bu/ac, once de-branned you would have about 108 bu/ac and final yield of undamaged rice is approximately 85 bu/ac. Broken and stained rice enters the pet food market.
The price of rice is determined by world markets, including the Chicago Board of Trade. The current average price of rough rice is $6.00-6.50/bu, and the current cost of production is approximately $500.00/ac; very dependent on choice of seed as conventional seed costs less than a hundred dollars per acre and hybrid varieties are close to double. Currently rice production is less than average due to higher prices for competing crops (corn, soy, wheat).
Even though rice uses an immense amount of water, there were no concerns presented with the state of their aquifer or runoff. It was noted that any pest management was closely monitored and applications only occur at threshold levels. Although rice is not a staple in American diets it is clear that rice production has potential for expansion.
Ozark, MO lead us to the famous Lambert's Cafe where students had the opportunity to try good ole American favourites including fried okra, black eyed peas, and a fresh hot bun thrown directly in your face, as long as you catch it! After enjoying copious amounts of food, much of which was brought onto the bus for supper, we enjoyed talent on the piano including a serenade by one of our classmates. We we're surprised to learn that a restaurant employee's wage was less than four dollars an hour, as they depend heavily on generous tips. The service was incredible so we hope that Guelph students appreciated their efforts!
While many hoped to just digest for a little while, we hopped right into a premature cotton field. Mike Milam, a cotton extension specialist with the University of Missouri, joined us to explain this fascinating crop. Cotton is a crop that has shaped the history of the USA from social implications and slavery into a crop now dominated by technology. Cotton is a perennial plant that is grown as an annual crop, grown continuously without rotation. It is traded in Chicago, where the price has slowly declined over the past 10 years. In fact, the cotton price that was once $1.30/lb is now averaging around $.56/lb due to overwhelming supply and sluggish demand.
The cotton that is grown in Missouri is of the Upland variety and is mainly used to produce textiles for t-shirts and jeans. Organic cotton is very minimal in the USA due to low yields and an undeveloped market. The yield of cotton in Missouri ranges from 700 to 1100 lb/ac, and harvest this year this approximately one month ahead of normal. Egyptian cotton, which has longer, thinner strands, is known for its high quality is grown in the state of California due to the longer growing season. Cotton is furrow-irrigated and is often seeded with a wheat nurse crop to protect the emerging cotton plant from weather and weed growth. Cover crops appear to be increasing in importance as organic matter of the prairie soils are less than 1%. A virgin prairie soil would have been around 18%!
Early planting of cotton is preferred since a longer season will (generally) result in better quality cotton. Quality of cotton can be affected greatly by insects such as the cotton bollworm, tobacco budworm, and more recently spider mites. Genetically modified cotton is grown on 98% of the acreage as part of their weed (Roundup Ready and Liberty Link) and insect (Bt) management programs. Migrant workers are employed to hoe weed escapes which costs around $50/ac. Harvest is now completely mechanical and occurs once per the season (thanks to defoliants and boll openers). Cotton combines, such as we saw at the John Deere plant in Iowa, are widely used to produce 500lb plastic wrapped bales – this has set a new standard for cotton picking machines. Once harvested, cotton is sent to a gin to be cleaned and deseeded. Cotton by products includes cotton seed which can be used for feed or oil, as well as linter which is used in the automotive industry. Cotton is a historically significant crop that played a significant role in the evolution of the United States and with advances in technology it will continue to be an important factor in United States agriculture.
Southern Missouri is the only place that creates an ideal environment for the production of rice and cotton thanks to the alluvial plain. All students were fascinated by the production of crops that many of us use on a daily basis and we would like to thank the University of Missouri and guests for taking the time to share their knowledge. Special thanks and safe return to Dean Rob Gordon for spending the past few days with us!