Rice production in the Everglades Agriculture Area (EAA) of Florida dates back nearly seven decades. For a brief period of time during the 1950s about 2,000 acres of rice was grown in the EAA. Although the rice industry produced satisfactory yields, the discovery of the rice ‘hoja blanca’ (white leaf) virus, which was reported first in the late 1950’s in Columbia and Venezuela, led to a federal quarantine of rice production in the state of Florida.
Rice was reintroduced in the EAA in 1977 after it was demonstrated that rice could be successfully incorporated into the sugarcane production cycle during the fallow period (Alvarez et al. 1978). The EAA comprises 445,000 ac of Histosols that are devoted to sugarcane production. During the summer period, more than 50,000 ac of fallow sugarcane land is available for rice production. In 2021, approximately 23,000 ac of rice were planted in the EAA (Florida Rice Growers Inc., 2022). The net value of growing rice in the EAA as a rotation crop far exceeds its monetary return. In addition to being a food crop in Florida, production of flooded rice provides several benefits to the agroecosystem. By flooding fields, growers greatly reduce the negative impacts from issues related to soil subsidence (Bhadha et al. 2020), improves soil health (Bhadha et al. 2018), reduces nutrient depletion, and insect pests (Cherry et al. 2015). This, in turn, enhances the subsequent sugarcane crop and maximizes the longevity of the soil by reducing soil loss due to oxidation. In addition, incorporating rice as a rotation crop in the EAA during the summer months also provides local employment (Schueneman et al. 2008). In 2021, eleven commercial varieties of rice were planted in the EAA (Diamond, LaKast, Cheniere, Rex, Mermentau, Titan, Jewel, Mix andthree Hybrid varieties) and evaluated on a yield-per-acre basis. Approximately 974,525 hundred weight (Cwt) of whole rice (broken, sub-products, and ratoon rice not included) was produced in 2021.
The objective of this publication is to (i) document trends in total acres of rice planted in the EAA between 2008 and 2021; (ii) determine the percent acreage of the varieties that are being grown. Local growers would particularly benefit from such information because it provides them the acreage for each rice variety produced in the EAA. This type of information is useful in the variety selection process while planning for the following year.
Rice Production in the EAA—2008 to 2021
Rice production in the EAA has been steadily increasing since 2008 at a rate of ~1,081 ac yr-1 (Figure 1). Florida Crystals Corporation (FCC) is the largest rice producer in the EAA, while the remaining rice is produced by local growers. The local growers are made up of farmers who grow sugarcane and winter vegetables, rotating with rice in the summer. They are part of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida and individually own >3,000 acres of land per farm. In 2008, a total of 11,912 ac of rice was planted in the EAA; of which 9,644 ac was planted by FCC and 2,268 ac was planted by local growers. In 2015, a total of 22,861 ac of rice was planted in the EAA; of which 16,297 ac was planted by FCC and 6,564 ac was planted by the local growers. In 2018, a total of 24,986 ac of rice was planted in the EAA; of which 20,365 ac was planted by FCC and 4,621 ac was planted by local growers. In 2021, a total of 23,058 ac of rice was planted in the EAA; of which 19,662 ac was planted by FCC and 3,396 ac was planted by local growers. The amount of rice harvested is reflective of the acreage planted. In 2008, 602,320 Cwt of green rice was harvested compared to 1,042,000 Cwt in 2015, 1,112,658 Cwt in 2018, 974,525 Cwt in 2021 (Figure 2). Between 2008 and 2021 rice yields in the EAA have averaged 46.56 Cwt ac-1. The highest average yields were observed in 2012 at 56.0 Cwt ac-1 while the lowest was observed in 2017 at 33.90 Cwt ac-1. The low yields of 2017 were a result of hurricane Irma, which damaged a significant acreage of rice stands, rendering them un-harvestable.
Rice Varieties Grown in the EAA
Rice is produced on a smaller scale in south Florida than in other states such as Arkansas, California, Louisiana, and Texas, limiting the amount of resources available to the growers. While research and extension personnel are available to address the needs of rice growers, historically the industry has suffered from a lack of diversity in terms of available varieties. Because neither UF/IFAS nor USDA-ARS have dedicated rice breeders, Florida is dependent on using varieties acquired from breeding programs in other states. More importantly, this lack of diversity in Florida rice leaves the industry susceptible to disease and arthropod outbreaks.
To provide a continual influx of new varieties, UF/IFAS and FCC conduct annual rice variety trials to rate new or existing varieties in south Florida. Varieties developed from other breeding programs are planted in small-plot variety assessment trials and parameters including yield quality/quantity and disease susceptibility are ranked by variety. Varieties ranking high over multiple years are introduced into commercial production. Due to the efforts of these rice variety trials, the diversity of rice varieties planted in south Florida has steadily increased from three varieties (Wells, Cypress, Jupiter) in 2008 (Figure 3) to seven varieties in 2015 (Roy J, Mermentau, Taggart, Cheniere, Wells, Jupiter, Rex) (Figure 4), to nine varieties in 2018 (Jupiter, Diamond, LaKast, Cheniere, Rex, Thad, Mermentau, Taggart, and Hybrid varieties) (Figure 5), to eleven varieties as of 2021 (Figure 6), which also include more hybrid varieties as compared to previous years. In addition, acreage by variety was more uniform in 2015 than in previous years.
In 2009, 86% of rice planted in Florida was of a single variety (Wells), leaving the industry dependent on the continued success of this variety. This situation emphasizes the need to have multiple varieties available in the event that a variety fails because of adverse biotic or abiotic conditions. In 2015, the top two varieties (Roy J and Mermentau) of rice covered only 62% of the total acreage of planted rice in the EAA, In 2021, the top two varieties (Diamond and LaKast) of rice covered only 64% of the total acreage of planted rice in the EAA (Figure 7). Studies conducted by Louisiana State University on rice varieties refer to Roy J and Mermentau as long-grain rice varieties. Roy J has shown excellent yield potential and Mermentau has shown good seedling vigor and ratoon crop potential (Saichuck et al. 2015). In 2018, the top two varieties planted were Diamond and Cheniere representing almost 50% of the total planted acreage, while in 2021 Diamond is still the dominant variety.
There has been an increasing trend in rice production within the EAA from 2008 to 2021. As the acreage of planted rice increases, so does the number of varieties that are being planted. While only two dominant varieties were planted in 2008 across 11,912 ac, eleven varieties were planted across 23,058 ac in 2021. Increasing trends in rice acreage and available varieties are testaments that growers in the EAA prefer planting flooded rice in the summer months rather than managing flooded fallow fields.
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