Most Louisiana rice farmers will look back on the 2013 crop with good memories.
“It was the best crop we ever had,” said Whiteville farmer Jeffrey Sylvester. “Thank goodness we didn’t have any hurricanes.”
Sylvester said he did not grow any hybrid rice, and many of his fields yielded more than 60 barrels (216 bushels or 98 hundredweight). He estimated his average yield at 45 barrels dry (162 bushels or 74 hundredweight).
Dr. Steve Linscombe, director of the LSU AgCenter’s Rice Research Station, said weather conditions in June established the groundwork for a good crop.
Moderate nighttime temperatures in June, when much of the rice crop is at a critical stage of development, helps determine a crop, he said, adding those were the conditions this year.
“It is normally a good indicator that we will have a pretty decent crop,” Linscombe said, adding, “We’re probably going to have right above or right below a record.”
Linscombe said the yield stability surprised him, with later-planted rice doing almost as well as early-planted rice.
The LSU AgCenter rice expert said his date-of-planting study normally starts out at 7,500 to 8,500 pounds an acre and falls off to 4,000, largely because of higher nighttime and daytime temperatures, as well as increased disease pressure, for the later-planted rice. This year, however, the later rice was still resulting in 7,500 pounds, he said. “This year, we just didn’t have much disease.”
Linscombe said bacterial panicle blight was light in 2013, although some Jazzman 2 fields were hit hard.
The good growing conditions helped quality too, he said, with lower-than-usual amounts of chalk.
Linscombe said he’s not expecting a big jump in rice acreage for 2014, although he’s hearing from seed companies that they are getting interest from farmers who want to return to planting rice.
LSU AgCenter rice specialist Dr. Johnny Saichuk said the good yields seemed surprising, given that the crop was determined by the weather in June and July more than it was by the cool spring months.
Blast disease was not a problem in 2013, unlike the previous year, and sheath blight was less of a factor than usual, Saichuk said.
LSU AgCenter plant pathologist Dr. Don Groth, agreed, saying he was surprised blast only appeared to be a problem in late-planted rice but was not widespread. “We had everything set up for a bad blast year,” Groth said, explaining that the results may have stemmed from many farmers choosing not to use highly susceptible varieties CL151 and CL261 and using fungicides aimed at the disease. Sercadis, however, has no effect against blast, he said.
In addition, Groth said bacterial panicle blight was not a problem because the summer was not excessively hot, but Jazzman 2 did have some bacterial panicle blight problems.
Unless prices change dramatically, Saichuk said he doesn’t expect rice acreage to change in the state. Louisiana’s rice acreage stood at 411,000 in 2013, although it had slipped to 395,000 acres in 2012.
“The acreage has leveled off for now,” Saichuk said.
Saichuk said north Louisiana acreage probably won’t increase if corn and soybean prices remain good. “Corn and soybeans are just too easy to grow and cheaper compared to rice,” he said.
Andrew Granger, LSU AgCenter county agent in Vermilion Parish, said most farmers were pleased with their crops.
“Everything I’ve heard is in the mid-30 barrels to the 50s, and that’s good for us,” Granger said.
He said the average yield per acre may be a record for Vermilion Parish.
Disease was moderate, Granger said. Stink bug pressure appeared to be building at first, when plants were flowering, but the insects never became a big problem.
Granger said the acreage decline in Vermilion may have reached a plateau. “We’ve lost 10 to 15 percent in acreage between 2010 and 2011 and again in 2011 to 2012, but 2013 has held its own, and I’m thinking we’ll have the same acreage in 2014,” Granger said.
The total Vermilion Parish rice acreage in 2013 was almost 50,000. In 2012, rice was grown on 45,000 acres in the parish, compared to 51,000 acres in 2011 and 61,000 in 2010.
Barrett Courville, LSU AgCenter county agent in Jefferson Davis and Acadia parishes, said the 2013 crop was better than average for most growers.
“It’s going to end up being a good year,” Courville said. “Overall, with the cold spring we had, it was really good.”
Courville said the second crop was starting off with good results. He said harvest on one field that had no fertilizer and only water from rainfall yielded 10 barrels (36 bushels or 16 hundredweight), while fields that were irrigated and fertilized had more than twice that amount.
Courville said he looked at a number of fields hit by unintended herbicides. “I’ve never looked at so much rice with drift,” he said.
He also said rice acreage in Acadia and Jefferson Davis parishes probably won’t decline much in 2014.
Vince Deshotel, LSU AgCenter county agent in St. Landry Parish, said yields averaged in the mid- 40-barrel range.
“It was probably better than average from what they normally would harvest here,” Deshotel said. “All in all, the rice crop was good to exceptional in some cases.”
Deshotel said he expects no change in St. Landry Parish rice acreage for 2014. The parish had 26,000 acres in 2013, up from 23,000 in 2012.
Richard Fontenot, a rice farmer near Vidrine, said most farmers in Evangeline Parish had yield increases. “As a whole, everybody probably picked up at least three barrels on average,” he said.
As for pests, hogs and blackbirds were problems for many farmers.
Ted Buller, who farms in Evangeline, Acadia and St. Landry parishes, said the bird problem started when rice was sprouting. “It was unbelievable, the blackbirds this spring, and they stayed until May,” Buller said.
The bird repellent AV1011 has been effective at reducing bird damage, but Saichuk said he is concerned whether the material will be available for 2014.
An increasing problem is the prevalence of wild hogs marauding fields of rice and other crops. “It’s going to get worse,” said farmer Richard Fontenot of Vidrine, who said he shot a hog near his shop in 2013.
Jefferson Davis Parish farmer Clarence Berken said his 2013 rice crop resulted in yields just less than 50 barrels an acre (180 bushels, 82 hundredweight) for the first crop, and many of his fields resulted in a second crop of more than 20 barrels (72 bushels or 33 hundredweight), with an average in the high teens.
“Overall, our average was better than average,”
Berken said. Berken said his good yields were grown with no hybrids. “I’m concerned about the quality issue, and we’ve moved to varieties suited for the export market,” he said.
The Jefferson Davis farmer also said his crop next year depends on what happens with the federal farm bill. “I’m pretty sure direct payments are going away, so there may be some adjustments in rental agreements,” Berken said.
In north Louisiana, 2013 was a good year for growing rice, according to Keith Collins, LSU AgCenter county agent in Richland Parish.
“We had a crop at least equal to last year,” Collins said, adding that the average yield for north Louisiana farmers was in the neighborhood of 160-165 bushels (44-46 barrels, or 72-74 hundredweight).
Neither disease nor insects were a major problem in the area, Collins said.
He said the acreage total for Richland Parish in 2013 was between 10,000 and 12,000, about what it was in 2012.
Collins said he expects a slight increase in rice acreage next year in north Louisiana. He said the drop in corn prices will cause some farmers to look at other options.
“Some won’t plant rice for four to five years, but when prices get right, they may plant 600 or 700 acres,” Collins explained.
Farmer John Owen of Richland Parish said the area has benefitted from the new Kennedy Rice Mill at Mer Rouge. He said the new $10 million facility in Morehouse Parish gives farmers another option for selling rice that pays more money.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity for all the growers to have a new player,” he said. Owen said he also expects rice acreage to increase in north Louisiana during 2014, with fertilizer and diesel prices dropping and rice prices holding at profitable levels. “You plug it into a spreadsheet, and rice is looking pretty good,” Owen said.
LSU AgCenter economist Dr. Mike Salassi said uncertainty will be a big factor when it comes time for farmers to decide how much rice they will plant.
“Bankers and the landlords are probably going to be the biggest determinants,” Salassi said.
Rice buyer David Bertrand, of Elton, said banks are anxious about the upcoming growing season because of uncertainty with the pending U.S. farm bill.
Because it’s likely direct payments will no longer exist, he said, banks want to see farmers have some type of security, which means many farmers are contracting next year’s crop.
Also, many farmers are locked into a crawfish/rice rotation that keeps land in production almost year-round. “There is no off-season,” Bertrand said.
He said he expects the 2014 rice acreage in Louisiana will not change from the 411,000 acres grown in 2013.
Bertrand said he is encouraged by the $70 million investment that a New York grain shipping firm is making at the Port of Lake Charles.
“It’s a healthy sign for the whole industry,” he said. “I’m starting to see a real revival and reinvigoration for agriculture in the area.”