Texas rice crop conditions mixed amid volatile global market
August 2, 2023
Weather conditions delivered a mixed bag of yield and quality results for Texas rice producers, but volatility in the global rice market could help growers, according to Texas A&M AgriLife experts.
Texas rice acres were down compared to last year, and yield numbers and quality have not lived up to the spring-time potential, said Lee Tarpley, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Research plant physiologist, Beaumont.
Drought did impact rice production for farmers west of Houston as water supplies were cut off due to low surface water supplies in the Upper Gulf Coast region, he said. Those fields represented more than a quarter of Texas’ rice acreage.
Texas rice farmers planted a little over 140,000 acres compared to 190,000 acres last season, he said.
Tarpley said rice planting got off to a slow start due to rain and cool spring temperatures. Growing conditions then turned dry and hot, which contributed to decent yields and lower quality rice grains.
Drier conditions likely helped yields because they reduced disease pressure, according to Shane Zhou, Ph.D., AgriLife Research plant pathologist, Beaumont, Tarpley said. But the heat, especially high nighttime temperatures, negatively impacted the crop’s potential.
Tarpley estimates per-acre yields to be down around 10% due to the heat. Yield losses are based on the heat impacting plants in ways that reduced grain size, seed set and other factors. Grain quality can impact prices for producers because the grain can crack or break as it is milled. Broken grains equal lower prices for farmers.
“I’m hearing yields have been pretty good, not great,” he said. “I expect milling qualities are down. It’s a shame about the quality and the yields because the potential for record yields was there without the extreme heat.”
Tarpley said grains were still filling in many Texas rice fields, and the high night temperatures are continuing to impact milling quality.
He said his colleague Lina Bernaola, Ph.D., AgriLife Research entomologist, Beaumont, also suspects some late-season pest pressure from stink bugs, which can hurt grain quality, and stem borers, which can directly impact yields, to compound the losses to heat.
Texas rice exports could increase
Tarpley said Texas rice prices had not moved very much since India’s decision to ban rice exports created a volatility in the global rice market. India is the largest exporter of rice, and their decision will tighten global supplies, but that may create an opportunity for U.S. rice farmers.
Texas long grain milling white rice was $37 per hundredweight, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture July 31 report. Long grain milling white Texas rice was $30-$32.25 per hundredweight the same time last year.
“Prices for Texas and U.S. rice will become much more competitive as large portions of the export market increases as India takes rice out of the market,” he said. “I think this is a chance for the U.S. to recapture some market share due to competitive prices.”
India will continue to export aromatic rice like basmati but has halted exports of short-, medium- and long-grain rice that are in demand around the world for their different cooking properties.
David Anderson, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service economist, Bryan-College Station, said tightening of global rice supplies because of India’s ban should impact rice prices for Texas farmers, but also could have consequences for hundreds of millions of people.
Rice is a global staple food for around 3 billion people, Anderson said. The volatility of the market for rice and another staple, wheat, due to the Ukraine-Russia war could create food security problems.
“The situation in India is interesting,” he said. “You have a season where India’s rice crop maybe came in a little short and rice prices have been rising domestically. The ban is an attempt by the government to bring those prices back down. So, there is a political element to the ban that has global implications.”
Anderson said Texas farmers could see better pricing opportunities this season because of the volatility. Better prices are likely to lead more Texas farmers to try and bring in a second harvest, or ratoon crop.
Ratoon rice is produced from plant regrowth following the main crop harvest. Many producers break even with the main rice crop and find profits with the ratoon crop, Tarpley said.
Ratoon fields are typically cut to 8-to-10-inch stubble height during the main harvest, and new growth from the stubbles’ lower nodes typically produces decent secondary yields, he said. But delays to planting that led to delayed harvest could be a factor for the second crop.
Tarpley said producers typically start ratoon cropping by mid-August with an October harvest in mind. If the schedule pushes harvest into November, there could be issues because of harvest-delaying rains or cold temperatures.
Tarpley said Bernaola had also expressed concern that rice delphacid, a kind of planthopper that causes leaf drying, could be more widespread on the ratoon crop this season.
“Producers are a little behind, but they are harvesting like gangbusters right now,” he said. “They could be back on schedule in a week or two. Making a good ratoon crop will depend on the extent of pest pressure and high temperatures at the start and weather in the fall.”