Growers from across the region had the opportunity to listen to specialists and researchers address their needs specific to rice cultivation -- from traditional and non-traditional planting practices to new market access.
The event at the Missouri Rice Research Demonstration Farm, 115-acres located at Missouri J approximately eight miles west of Malden, also drew a handful of the area's state legislators -- District 162 Rep. Otto Bean, R-Holcomb; District 159 Rep. Billy Pat Wright, R-Dexter; and District 25 state Sen. Robert N. Mayer, R-Dexter, all were in attendance.
"We were brought up to speed about rice production and research on planting soybeans behind rice," the state representative said. "We can't raise rice year 'round.
"We have to rotate with soybeans," he added. "I learned about some new soybean varieties that are in the development stages that are resistant to water."
"This spring, fuel was about $1.70," Wright said. "Now it's at least $2.00.
"Growers are dedicated to supplying a quality product," he added. "I'm wondering how long we can go on generating this kind of quality with fuel costs climbing."
"Irrigation pumps and motors must be fueled, like anything else," he said. "This drought has cost farmers quite a bit -- more than we'd like to admit.
"But fuel prices are decreasing," Kruse continued. "I expect the prices to soften through the end of the year."
Kruse explained that the biggest risk for rice prices in the forecast is foreign export.
"[The USDA] got our exports up to 121 million hundredweight," he said. "When you think about that relative to last year's 109, it seems like a pretty big jump.
"We've had one other year when we were above that level," Kruse added. "You gotta ask, 'How are we gonna get this rice exported?'"
The assistant professor said people should consider one of the U.S. growers' competitors in Asia.
"Thailand likes to export a lot of rice," Kruse said. "But in the last two months they've been very concerned about supporting their domestic price level, which is relatively high.
"Their government has been supporting their rice price in Thailand at the expense of exports," the specialist added. "While Thailand has kind of backed out of exporting here recently, Vietnam has jumped in and is exporting an awful lot of rice."
Kruse said the question with developing countries "is whether they can continue to support rice prices" at the expense of exports.
"Typically, they are spending an awful lot of money supporting rice prices," he said. "Then they jump out of the rice price support business and all of a sudden a flood of exports comes on the market.
"I think I see that as the biggest risk for our export situation," Kruse added. "If Thailand jumps in and exports a lot, and you say, 'Okay, do they have the crop to export?', well, the last time they had a crop of this size, that they are looking at harvesting this year, they exported almost 10 million metric tons."
Kruse said that weight is equivalent to about 226 million hundredweight.
"This year USDA is projecting they export only 8 million metric tons," he said. "In terms of million hundredweight, that's a huge difference that could easily displace any export gain that we might have on the U.S. side."
Kruse noted that the overseas demand for U.S. rice is down, but marginally so.
"You have to wonder how we can grow our exports when all the countries we traditionally export to are down," he said. "Those are just a couple of the risks that I can point out."
Still, Kruse described the economics of the business as being "cautiously optimistic." He said there exists a 50-50 chance that rice prices will increase, but added that is tied to developments in Thai policy.
"By 2010, the challenge for U.S. rice producers will be how to survive with potentially less government support over the long term," he said.
U.S. Rice Producers President Dwight A. Roberts of Houston, Texas, agreed.
"There is a whole uncertainty of how the government is going to treat farmers," Roberts said. "There are fewer and fewer guarantees out there.
"Our government policy should be that government support is the highest priority," he added. "There is growing negativity in Washington with respect to support. We need to keep up the pressure to expose this thing, and opening up the Cuba market would help our access a great deal."
Roberts said of all the rice grown in the U.S., half leaves the country. The organization's president added that Cuba would, given the opportunity, become a primary target for U.S. rice growers.
"Cuba could import 600 tons annually," Roberts said. "That's the entire Missouri harvest.
"Fidel Castro himself said Cuba doesn't have the milling infrastructure to purchase non-milled rice," he continued. "It makes more economic sense for them to import milled rice from the U.S. than it does to grow it and try to mill it themselves. Cuba would become the No. 1 long-grain market, which for us, currently, is Mexico."
Aside from low prices, increased fuel and fertilizer costs, and decreasing government support, Roberts said growers need new market access.
"Cuba could be a huge relief in a short period of time," he said. "Farmer's don't want government payments.
"They'd prefer to have market access," Roberts explained.
Roberts added the next farm bill should be renamed.
"It should be called 'The Food Bill,'" he said. "Or, 'The Consumer's Food Bill.'
"People have taken for granted a safe and secure food supply," Roberts continued. "There is no country in the world that spends such a small percent of its disposable income on food. I'd prefer to see a Missouri farmer on a box of Wheaties than I would to see Michael Jordan."
One grower, Bill Alexander, 79, of Campbell, said he learned quite a bit about soybean rust.
"I don't know for sure what it looks like," Alexander said. "I have something that looks like spots on my beans.
"But I can't tell if it's a disease or just dry plants," he added.
Alexander's concern was addressed by Allan Wrather, a plant pathologist attached to the Delta Research Center at Portageville.
"There are a few of my colleagues who traveled to South America to get a look at rust," he said. "I've never seen it.
"We don't know much about it because thankfully, we've never found any in Southeast Missouri," he continued. "Our weather is too hot and too dry for the disease to take hold and take over."
He said the rust spore requires several hours of wet leaf time to germinate.
"We've been too dry for that spore to germinate," he said.
Andy Kendig, weed scientist attached to the Delta Research Center at Portageville, said one of the grower' major concerns was the discovery of a new weed that is resistant to some new herbicides.
"We located some smallflower umbrellasedge that we thought was confined to California," he said. "There are some herbicides out there that will kill that weed, but they are old ones that some people don't even use any more, like Propanil, Command Basagran and Blazer.
"There are places where newer herbicides are very useful," he continued. "But we still need to consider some of the old foundation products that are out there."
Kendig added that red rice is still the No. 1 weed challenge that faces growers.
"It's been a real problem for soybean farmers and rice growers for the last three years," he said. "We're stressing crop rotation and using Clearfield rice as part of a whole program dedicated to controlling red rice."
Rice agronomist Brian Ottis of the Delta Center said his goal was to aid growers in reducing seeding rates without sacrificing yield.
"We've found that it's not necessary for farmers to use as much of the hybrids when they are planting as they might have thought," he said. "Also, we wanted to stress the different varieties developed through seeding programs."
Ryan Shirkey, 23, of Sikeston, an agriculture business student at Southeast Missouri State University at Cape Girardeau, said he was present at Field Day as part of a class curriculum.
"I'll be able to take back with me information about variation of crop yields, cross-germinating, blast resistance and Asian rust," he said. "It was quite a day."