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Broken rice tied to nitrogen.

Broken Rice Tied to Nitrogen

Neatness counts - especially when it comes to rice farming.

That's the news from plant geneticist Robert H. Dilday at ARS' Rice Production and Weed Control Research Unit at Stuttgart, Arkansas. Dilday says the results of a 3-year study show that hit-or-miss application of nitrogen fertilizer on rice can land farmers a failing grade where it hurts the most - in payments at the mill.

"With varieties of rice that take a lot of nitrogen fertilizer such as the semi-dwarfs, we saw twice as many broken kernels - called brokens - when the rice wasn't fertilized," Dilday notes. "Rice millers pay only half as much for rice that contains a lot of brokens.

"This means that when you aerially apply your nitrogen, you have to be sure you get an even distribution and don't miss strips in the field. If you do miss strips, you could be shooting yourself in the foot twice: once in lost production, and again in lower prices paid for the rice at the mill."

In Dilday's experiments, nitrogen was applied to test plots of Lemont and Newbonnet rice in several ways: all the nitrogen at once, before flooding of the rice field; half at preflood and the rest in two equal doses later in the growing season; and a six-way split. Other plots received no nitrogen at all.

In 1987, Lemont rice that received all its nitrogen fertilizer preflood had only 14.2 percent brokens, Dilday recalls. That same year, his Lemont rice that received no fertilizer had 33.3 percent brokens.

Lemont is one of the semidwarf varieties favored by farmers. Among the attributes of semidwarf varieties is a resistance to lodging - a condition where the rice stalk breaks, dumping the head onto the ground.

But rice doesn't have to be a semidwarf variety to show the harmful effects of sloppy nitrogen application. Newbonnet also suffered from the absence of nitrogen in Dilday's tests, although percentages of brokens weren't as great: 15.6 percent brokens in 1987 with no nitrogen, compared with 11.9 percent brokens when all the nitrogen was applied preflood.

Nor is nitrogen application the only pitfall awaiting rice producers. Dilday says other studies at Stuttgart have shown that poor timing of field drainage before harvest can hurt rice quality, too.

"A lot of times, farmers like to drain the field early because if they leave the water on too long, they have a really muddy field and a devil of a time moving around with their harvest equipment," Dilday explains.

"We've tried draining at different times and actually harvesting the rice with the water still on the field. Our studies show the longer you leave the water on the field, the lower your percentage of brokens."
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Author:Hays, Sandy Miller
Publication:Agricultural Research
Date:Jun 1, 1991
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