Summer rice harvesting season in Wharton County is coming to a close with improved yields from 2019, leaving producers feeling optimistic about the secondary ratoon crop which will be harvested in the fall.

Bob Little of the El Campo Rice Farmer’s Co-Op estimated about 80-85 percent of the rice harvest had been completed. He reported increased yields and acres compared to 2019.

“Yields are up,” Little said. “For us, acres were up. Last year, we had a horrible year. Our acres are up probably 100 percent.”

Yields were at about an average of 800 pounds of rice per acre this year, Little said.

“It’s been a good year,” he added. “The price is decent. We’ll never make a fortune, but it should be able to pay the bills and we’ll do it again next year.”

Texas rice producers planted 184,000 acres in 2020, a 17 percent increase from 2019, which finished with about 157,000 acres, according to the June Acreage Report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service. In 2018, about 195,000 acres of rice were planted.

The typical peak harvesting season for Texas rice runs from Aug. 7 through Sept. 4, according to state data.

El Campo rice producer Daniel Berglund kicked off harvesting earlier than peak season, beginning around the last week of July. He is almost finished harvesting his fields.

“I’d say yields have been average to a little above average,” Berglund said.

Compared to the harvesting season in 2019, Berglund experienced better weather this year, although conditions are rarely perfect.

“Cutting conditions have been mixed as far as ground conditions,” he said. “There were times when the ground has been a little wetter than we’d like to have because of rain earlier on. Then it got really dry, and then it got wet again.”

Rice producer Kenny Danklefs of Garwood completed a majority of his harvesting about two weeks ago. Only about two percent of his crop remains to be harvested, Danklefs estimated.

“The yields were good,” Danklefs said. “For some (of it)… the quality has tapered off after the Hurricane Hanna rain. The milling quality went down.”

Hurricane Hanna largely missed Wharton County, striking Corpus Christi and areas of northern Mexico near the end of July.

“That slowed harvest down and muddied up some fields to where we’re not going to ratoon crop one field at least, and a few people are in that same position where they ruddied up some stuff and the won’t ratoon crop everything,” Danklefs said.

Although many Wharton County rice producers are finished harvesting their initial crop, a second round of harvesting awaits them in the coming months.

“Rice will make a ratoon crop if you harvest it early enough,” Berglund said. “Usually about mid August. It comes back out from the roots, and you can make about a third of the first harvest yield.”

Little, Berglund and Danklefs had high hopes for their respective ratoon crop yields. After the ratoon crop grows in, producers could begin harvesting in October or November, but the fall harvest brings a different set of obstacles than the summer harvest.

“The biggest problem with the ratoon crop is we’ll get cold spells or an early frost,” Little said. “It could damage it or slow it down.”

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