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Crossroads rice producers have good year

By ALLISON MILES
Sept. 11, 2012 at 4:11 a.m.
Updated Sept. 12, 2012 at 4:12 a.m.

Floyd Zboril, left, and Frank Zboril III, right, show the recently harvested rice field near El Campo. This year's harvest is stored in a dryer as a second crop is being grown from the rice plants still rooted in the field.

Did you know...?

• It takes plenty of moisture to grow rice. The crop spends about 85 percent of its life in water. With levees that hold water on the fields, rice sits in about 3 to 4 inches of water.

• Rice is among the few crops to have a ratoon, or second, crop. Producers don't reseed their fields, but wait for that added crop to grow from existing plants.

• Moisture plays a major role in rice harvest, too. If plants are too wet, rice sticks to them in the combine. The best time to harvest is typically between 11 a.m. and 30 minutes before sundown.

SOURCES: FRANK ZBORIL III AND FLOYD ZBORIL, WHARTON COUNTY RICE FARMERS

EL CAMPO - Floyd Zboril's rubber boots sloshed across a Wharton County rice field, his trusty dog Hank splashing happily alongside him. While immersed in water and with short stalks evident, Zboril admitted the field didn't look like much Friday. Still, he said, it served the family well.

2012's initial rice crop brought the best yield he'd seen in his 30 plus years farming.

"It's been good," he said, adjusting the brim of his straw hat. "It's been a really good year."

Zboril's family farm isn't alone in its healthy crop. Agriculturists say that, in general, the region fared well this season.

Although some added rain could have helped, growing conditions were just right for rice producers in Jackson County, said Mike Hiller, Texas AgriLife Extension agent. Some area farmers reported more than 10,000 pounds of crop per acre, he said, while 7,500 pounds is about average.

Mo Way, professor of entomology with the Texas A&M AgriLife Research Center, said several factors came together to improve this year's rice haul.

Advancing technology and information availability allows producers to constantly improve the way they manage their fields, for instance. Types of rice available, from hybrids to herbicide-resistant and other forms, also allow producers to cater their crops to their circumstances.

Climate, too, played a major role.

Rice does well in dry conditions because it means fewer problems with insects, weeds and disease, Way said, and areas in the western rice belt saw ideal circumstances.

Still, others experienced issues.

Areas on the rice belt's eastern side experienced lower yields, partly due to untimely rain while the plant was flowering. Water restrictions on counties that utilize water from the Colorado River also meant some producers simply couldn't plant their crops.

Such was the case for many in Matagorda County, said Brent Batchelor, Texas AgriLife Extension agent.

Yields were above average for rice planted throughout his county but restrictions meant acreage was down. The county typically boasts 20,000 to 25,000 acres of rice, he said, but this year brought barely 1,000.

Affected Matagorda County farmers received crop insurance payments, Batchelor explained, but he hoped to see restored water for next year's season.

His county usually draws about $20 million annually - one-fifth of its annual agricultural income - from rice.

"It all depends on the rains this winter and lake levels," he said. "Maybe we won't get to full acreage, but hopefully we'll get enough rain. This is such an important part of our economy."

As for Zboril, he said he and his family wrapped the season's first harvest up about Sept. 4, but work was nowhere near done. A second harvest will likely come in October, he said, and then it's on to preparing for 2013.

It's non-stop work, he said, but worth it.

"I think if the market's up, we'll keep going," he said. "You have to enjoy what you do, and we enjoy it. We're too old to do anything else."

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