Giving rice a fertile future

Walking his father’s rice fields in the Bootheel as a youngster, Zack Tanner left his footprints for the future.

Today, he grows Clearfield rice varieties for seed, popcorn seed and soybeans for seed on the farm his father, Fred, and uncle, Chris, began.

“I learned a lot from my dad,” Zack says. As he grew, the focus became specifically on rice seed. “Rice seed was my baby early on. I decided I wanted to grow rice for seed.”

After earning a degree at Southeast Missouri State University in ag business in 1994, Zack came back to work on the farm.

The Tanner family had grown rice seed since the early 1970s. When Zack seeded his first rice crop on a limited number of acres that spring of 1994, his father and uncle made him a proposition that had the markings of a carrot-and-stick approach. “They said if I could make a 150-bushel average, I’d get a 10% bonus. I did that the first year and got the bonus every year that I was working for them,” Zack says.

“I learned early on you get out of something what you put into it,” he notes, recalling the advice of his father and his days of setting the levee gates and walking the rice fields. “You tend to reflect on the sayings that your father told you growing up after your father passes away.” Zack’s father passed away in 1998.

Just as he wanted to be a part of the rice culture while growing up, Zack saw the potential for a new opportunity when the Clearfield varieties started creating buzz in the late 1990s.

Today, Clearfield varieties occupy some 60% of the rice acres in the Mid-South. Zack believes acceptance of the technology has come about because researchers “have developed varieties with the Clearfield technology to fit whatever scenario we may have on individual farms. I look forward to a day when the general public accepts improved rice varieties that may be genetically modified.”

As a grower of Clearfield seed for Horizon Ag, Zack sees new herbicide-resistant varieties in the early stages before official release — varieties such as CL111, CL142AR and CL181AR.

“When you’re dealing with a brand-new variety, you’re looking to ‘blow it up,’” Zack says. “To do that, we plant a low seeding rate of 5 pounds to 7 pounds per acre and apply 200 pounds of nitrogen per acre over several applications.”

The normal seeding rate is 70 pounds per acre. Planting a lower seeding rate, Zack says, provides the ability to grow fewer off-types — those plants taller than normal — as well as stretch the limited amount of seed over more acres. He leaves a rouging lane every 18 to 20 feet to allow rougers to pull out and remove off-types.

“We apply nitrogen, flush the fields and dry them up several times in an effort to produce more tillers,” Zack says.

His attention to the seed fields is based on the advice his father once gave him: “The best applied product to a field is a footprint.”

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LOOKING AHEAD: Zack Tanner foresees a bright future for rice with improved varieties.

This article published in the January, 2010 edition of MID-SOUTH FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.