MidWest Tour Day 12

Poplar Bluff, Sikeston, Missouri; Effingham, Illinois...

Out of the Ozark’s into the Boot

by Erica Gibson, David Westerveld, Michelle Reid, Martina Devet, Calvin Otten

(Essex, Missouri)

Our day began at 8:30 am as the 2018 Midwest Tour bus pulled out of Poplar Bluffs, South East Missouri and headed down the road to Wheeler farms accompanied by Sam Attwell, University of Missouri Extension Agronomy Specialist.  Once at the farm we met the Wheeler Family who have grown crops on this land since the early 1930's. Currently the family is running 11,000 acres which are being rotated between rice and soybeans. The majority of fields are 40 acres in size and fully renovated to be level to keep water within the field. The southeast corner of Missouri, also known as the bootheel region due to it resemblance of a boot on the map, has ideal conditions for growing rice. This is because it has plenty of water due to it being down range from the Ozark Mountain Range, a flat surface which is ideal for flooding, and its location in the Mississippi Valley making it ideal for transport to exporting markets.

The History of Missouri Rice Land:

close up of immature rice heads with kernels
Figure 1 Close up shot of the
rice kernels form Wheeler Farms

There was a time that there was no rice production let alone agricultural production on the Wheeler farm property due to the land being a swamp. In the early 1900’s, a lumber business bought the land due to land prices being so cheap and the opportunity for harvesting trees forlumber. Once the trees where cleared the land was then sold to farmers who noticed the potential of it being very fertile and flat for agricultural practices. They created drainage ditches through Arkansas to the Mississippi river for draining the swamp water. The Wheeler family then purchased some of this land in the 1930’s to begin their farming operation.

Types of Rice and the Involvement of Genetics:

There are several types of rice grown worldwide. The Wheeler family grows mainly long grain rice, which is the rice that is generally eaten whole and often competes with potatoes for a place on your dinner plate. Medium grain rice is often used for candy bars; such as rice crispy squares. Short grain rice is grown almost exclusively in California that has an aromatic scent and a soft, sticky texture. All varieties of rice grown in United States are non-GMO. Current rice varieties are selected base on yield potential, standability, disease, and milling quality. Currently there are 15 different varieties of rice available in Missouri with 70% of those being hybrids. Hybrid varieties often have a yield advantage yielding 200 bu/acre, with conventional rice yielding 160-165 bu/acre. The use of hybrid rice has been stagnant over the last several years in Missouri as the milling quality is often below that of conventional due to the higher amounts of tillering in hybrid varieties, with tillers often having a lower quality of grain. Seed cost is $100-150/acre more for hybrid seed also making it a less attractive option.


By-Products of Rice and Their Uses:
Dr. Swanton and rice respresentatives in front of farm equipment
Figure 2 Clarence Swantan, talking to
the rice representatives.
Rice kernels have three layers, the hull, the bran and the white endosperm. The hull is taken off first and can be burned for electricity, it can be sold to chicken producers as bedding or sold to concrete manufacturers. It is also sweet and can be used as bait for deer. After the hull is taken off, brown rice is left, this is the brown rice that you can find in the stores. To make white rice the bran is taken off and it can be sold for animal feed. Another by-product after harvesting is complete is the stocks of the plants. They are most commonly burnt off but if straw supply is low then they will bale it for bedding. The last by-product of rice comes after the milling is complete, any broken or discolored rice grains are sorted out and sold to dog food companies.

Present Water Usage in Rice Production:

The primary benefit of flooding the rice field is to have ample amounts of water to support growth, a secondary benefit is that it acts like a herbicide and inhibits growth of other plants. Rice is a semi-aquatic plant that has developed mechanisms to allow for oxygen and carbon-dioxide exchange while submersed in water. In early June the fields are flooded and remains flooded until August at which point the surface water is drained and the rice plants pull the last bit of water out of the soil. Once the ground is dry the harvesting of the rice can start.

Current and Emerging Rice Markets:

There are 6 states that grow 99% of rice in the United States including Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi and Texas; listed in order of greatest production. Currently, China is the largest producer, consumer, and importer of rice. Interestingly enough, Missouri does not currently export rice to China. Approximately 50% of rice in the United States is kept for internal consumption and the rest is exported to locations dependent on whether it has been milled or not. Milled rice is rice that has had the hull and the husk removed, which is mainly exported to Haiti and Canada. Whereas, rough rice can be exported to places that will mill the rice themselves like Mexico and Central America. The average market price of rice is $5.80-6.00/bu but is currently low at $4.00-4.80/bu for the world market. We learned that the trade war has not affected the Missouri rice market significantly. There is a current challenge with obtaining phytosanitary protocol so that China can import American rice. This protocol is necessary to ensure that whatever is being imported into the country is safe and will not introduce any pest into the importing country. In regards to emerging markets, Egypt is starting to experience a water shortage as the Nile river is the only water available for use. It was suggested that Egypt may be able to purchase rough rice from the United States and mill it themselves and then export it to other countries.

(Sikeston, Missouri)


outside the Lambert's Cafe
Figure 3 Lambert's Cafe for lunch,
boy it was filling

For lunch we had the pleasure of visiting Lambert’s Café, a restaurant known for throwing fresh-made rolls to customers from across the restaurant. After lunch we travelled to a family farm to learn about their cotton operation. This farm is owned by the Parker brothers. Dan, one of the partners’ sons is currently managing the day to day operations of the farm. A total of 7500 acres is farmed here with 4000 acres of cotton, 2800 acres of soybean, 700 acres of corn and a few acres of winter wheat and pasture.  Soil types are a silty loam opposed to the mixed soil used for rice production just a few minutes down the road.


Types of Cotton:

close up for cotton bolls
Figure 4 Close up picture of
Danny's cotton bolls

There are 4 major species of cotton, the most common species is known as upland cotton and makes up 90% of world production. In Missouri the most productive species is known as king cotton it has been bred for fiber length and strength. Cotton is grown in Missouri because of the climate this area provides, the hot and humid days provides perfect conditions for this sub-tropical crop. An important distinction however is the difference in quality from cotton grown in southern United States versus that grown in a more northern state. There is another species of cotton that is grown mainly in California known as Egyptian cotton. Egyptian cotton is also known as long staple cotton and can be characterized as having longer and stronger fibers. These two characteristics allow for a finer quality yarn and thus can be sold as a higher quality product.

Markets for Cotton:

The cotton industry has a wide variety of marketing opportunities in the United States including the big markets of textile products, cottonseed oil, and cottonseed meal. The main market for cotton is textile products that consist of yarn, cloth and clothing products. For example: socks, underwear, most t-shirts, bed sheets, are made from cotton fibres. Fabric can also be made from recycled cotton that would otherwise be thrown away and can be blended with other fibers to get products like polyester. Another market is the use of the seed. The seed can be marketed into two different areas, cottonseed oil for human consumption and cotton seed meal for livestock consumption.  For the cottonseed oil, the product is first ginned where the seeds are separated from the cotton fibre. From here the cotton seed is husked and refined to create oil which is consumed by humans. With the leftover husks from the cottonseed, a meal is made for ruminant livestock feed. The cottonseed meal is only edible for ruminants due to the microbes within the rumen, which can digest the toxic gossypol. Therefore, it is toxic for calves, with undeveloped rumens and monogastric animals. There is organic production, but it is typically only used for organic livestock operations for feed. There are also smaller markets that use cotton for products like fish nets, coffee filters, and explosive manufacturing.

Dicamba- a Controversial Chemical:

Over the last few years the use of the broadleaf herbicide Dicamba has increased in the state of Missouri as more weeds continue to develop resistance to commonly used herbicides such as glyphosate. Xtend technology, allows dicamba to be sprayed without impacting the crop, is also relatively new and is currently being utilized in cotton and soybean production. Dicamba is key to growers as it successfully eliminates problem resistant weeds such as waterhemp, palmer amaranth, and Canada fleabane. With the increased use of dicamba, there is an increase in chemical drift which harms nearby fields dramatically. In 2017, over 200 complaints of dicamba injuries were reported in Missouri. This is down from previous years due to an education program for applicators as well as a spray cut-off date of June 15 for the last application. Though improving, this herbicide is still causing enough unrest in the agricultural community to potentially ban the chemical after this year.  Banning would follow in the footsteps of Arkansas after a 2017 growing season filled with drift complaints as well as a killing following two neighbours meeting to resolve a dicamba drift dispute. This fall the label for dicamba will be up for revaluation by the EPA and a decision will be made on this key herbicide’s futures in the state of Missouri and the United States.


“Advancement in Cotton Harvesting has Kept the Farmers in the Fields”:

John Deer 6-row Cotten Picker harvester
Figure 5 John Deere Cotton picker, estimated cost 915,000 USD

In the history of cotton plantations, there was a large need for labour during harvest, before machinery was brought in to harvest, plantation owners would bring in slaves to pick the cotton. Todays, cotton harvesting has become highly mechanized to increase efficiency. The first machine was a single row cotton picker that could replace the work of 40 people. It would pack the bolls into the basket that the combine carried. Once this basket is full it is then dumped into a wagon and would have to be packed down to avoid the risk of cotton bolls blowing away; this was still slow and labour intensive. Than combine harvesters increased in size to have larger number of rows for harvesting. The newest advancement to the combine was the addition of a baler attachment that can bale the cotton bolls into 6000lbs bales. This reduced the risk of losing bolls and the cost of the labour force. There are also two different types of combines; strippers and pickers. Strippers take the whole plant up into the combine, this causes the cotton to be full of debris. The pickers have tines that strip the bolls from the plants, this decreases debris and increase the lint weight in each of the bales.


Farm Financing:

Heather and Cooper from Farm Credit spoke to us about financing options; especially for young farmers. They also spoke to us about the importance of balance sheets, and the importance of early succession planning. To be granted a loan from Farm Credit they want you to be making $1.15 for every dollar of debt, and to have 50% of owner equity. The most common types of loans available include operating loans, equipment loans, and real estate loans. Farm Credit explained the importance of crop insurance to protect farmers from loss. The revenue protection program helps to keep farmers on their feet if they have a bad year and will prevent them from going into planting season with low or negative income. They discussed the issues in 2015 and 2016 that depleted a lot of working capital and caused a lot of challenges for farmers without crop insurance. They offer programs to help educate young farmers on how to run a business. This includes learning how to use a balance sheet to manage money and be able to determine if they are gaining or losing money. Succession planning was also discussed as this is relevant to all farmers, but is a topic that many people like to avoid. We were given the advice to get an attorney and an accountant together and start planning as early as possible to avoid any negative stress on relationships during the process of succession planning.


students in cotton field
Figure 6 Students getting up close and personal with the cotton. 

The farms we visited today gave us the opportunity to learn about production systems not seen in Ontario. We learned about the production of rice and cotton, environmental impacts, the economic and marketing opportunities, and social aspects involved with both commodities. We were able to learn from the farmers and the experts in both rice and cotton fields. We also heard from the bankers at Farm Credit who gave us beneficial tips for our futures in regards to financial stability and success.