Each of the Arkansas rice fields Scott Gifford scouts is unique, and he prioritizes that distinction to produce the highest yield possible for each acre.
Gifford, named by Corteva Agriscience and Rice Farming magazine as a 2020 Rice Consultant of Distinction, does not believe in a one-size-fits-all approach.
“The bottom line is I want them to be profitable. We want them to make the most profit possible with the optimal amount of inputs,” he says.
Gifford averages 20 crop years with the majority of his rice growers, and some since the day he began his crop consulting business.
“When you are hired as an independent crop consultant, you build a relationship with that grower and you develop a partnership,” he says. “We work together to make the most yield we can make. And if the market conditions are right, that rice grower makes a profit.”
Rice can be more difficult than other crops to manage because every field is unique. For example, Gifford has come across fields with broadleaf issues, others with grasses, others with high sedge populations and some with a mix of weeds.
Because of that experience, he does not offer his growers any standard season-long weed control programs. “I make every recommendation on a field-by-field basis, down to application rates. My recommendations are based on weed size and weed species specific to each field,” Gifford says.
Gifford’s No. 1 strategy for success is to start the season with a clean seedbed. His recommendation begins with a burndown herbicide application and transitions to residual herbicides.
“It is important with rice to overlap residual herbicides. And we try to mix postemergence materials based on the weed species present,” he says. “You’ve also got to look a year ahead to plan for what crop is going to be on that ground next year.”
In 2020, Gifford primarily scouted drill-seeded rice acres, but 20% to 30% of his business focused on row rice production. He expects that percentage to grow slightly in 2021.
“Minimal field prep is an advantage of the row rice system. Farmers like not having to put those levees up, and they reduce equipment costs,” he says. “You may be giving up some yield, but you can save prep time.”
Another advantage of row rice is the time savings associated with fall levee destruction. “You can get in the field earlier next year because there is no need to take levees down in the fall. With the dry fall we had in 2020, many growers will be able to get into the field early in 2021, assuming no excessive late-winter rains,” Gifford says.
Gifford stresses that not every farm is set up for row rice production. There is also an increased need to manage water. He recommends watering fields every 48 hours to keep the top muddy while still holding water on the bottom.
“I use a lot of Loyant herbicide, especially in row rice production systems,” he says. “We now know how to use it, and it is a sedge- and pigweed-killing machine.”
The northeast Arkansas native began consulting in 1997 after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from Arkansas State University.
Today, both of his children are students at Arkansas State University with daughter Meg a junior and son Miles a senior. After graduation this spring, Miles is joining the family’s business, with plans to begin crop consulting full time. Gifford’s wife, Rachel, is vice president of nearby Arkansas Northeastern College.
“When we work seven days a week during the growing season, my family’s support is invaluable,” Gifford says.
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