Rice producers in Wharton County are gearing up for their busiest part of the season with harvest finally under way.

Dick Ottis, president and chief executive officer for Ricebelt Warehouse, Inc., said truckloads of conventional rice started coming in around July 26 with a few loads a day, but he expects it to pick up in the next two to three weeks.

“We knew we were late because the spring rains kept them out of the field for awhile (to plant). We felt it would start at the end of July, but we thought by now we would be busier than we are,” Ottis said.

Sporadic spring rains meant the planting season went longer than usual. Texas producers also put in less acres of conventional rice this year, not because of a lack of water, but due to low prices that carried into February, March and April. More seed rice was grown this year.

“It may be a longer season because of the way the rice was spread out because of planting, but that doesn’t mean we will have more volume by no means,” Ottis said.

In Texas, around 125,000 to 130,000 acres of rice was planted this spring, compared to the 150,000 acres grown last year, with Matagorda and Jackson counties seeing the biggest acreage reduction in the tri-county area.

This is the first time in his rice farming career that L.G. Raun of El Campo did not start harvest in July, but on Aug. 5 with brief showers delaying cutting in one field by a few hours Monday and Tuesday to where he had to begin cutting in another one and then come back.

“With the modern improvements in technology and with the tractors and equipment and horsepower, it is amazing to me how nature is still the master,” Raun said from his combine Wednesday.

In the first days of harvest Raun and his crew calibrate machinery, looking for rice leaks and how efficiently it takes the grain off the plant making the first days slow. Rice has to be dry enough to cut, and these past few weeks without much rain meant the rice was ready for harvest, he said.

Raun’s main goal is getting the rice out of the field.

“When I get to harvest time, I don’t worry about price or the quality of the yield. My main focus is getting the crop out, and keeping the machines going to get the crop to a safe place which is the dryer and the bins there because the yield is already here. I can’t do anything about it or price,” he said.

Although it is early in the harvest, the rice Ricebelt has received is “very good to excellent,” in quality, Ottis said.

“We haven’t seen much smut,” he added.

According to U.S. Rice Producers, some smut issues are being reported along the Gulf Coast in both conventional and hybrid varieties in early samples.

“Smut” is a term for fungus on the rice that could be brought on for various reasons originating possibly from the soil or the air to too dry or too wet weather to overfertilization.

“I have been in this business a long time, and seen so many things that could cause smut, but no one has found that definite answer yet as to why we have smut,” Ottis said.

Mills frown upon smut because it distorts the color of the grain ruining its clarity.

“It’s not very pretty,” Ottis said. “It’s a damage that definitely discounts the price.”

Another issue during harvest has been grass control. Damage to the grain from “peck” or insect bites could be another problem.

“Insects suck nutrients out of the grain and that leaves a discoloration around where the insect takes the nutrient out of the bean. There is a discount to the producer if there is too much coloration change because of the peck. The housewife doesn’t like to see a discoloration in the finished product in a package sold at the store,” Ottis said.

It’s too soon to tell how the weather affected yields. Warm to hot days with sunshine are preferable when the plant begins to head and the grain is growing. Rains in April, May and June might have an effect on yield because of the “blanking” of the grain. Farmers have reported to Ottis they’ve seen more blank grains this year than normal.

Harvest of the first crop usually ends mid-September, and the “ratoon” or second crop should be ready by the end of October or November.

“This may be one of those off years that occur every once in a while, and the good Lord willing, hopefully the price for this year will be better for the producer to have a profitable year,” Ottis said.

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