2015 rice harvest goes well, but not a record-breaker

Frances Gould  |  5/31/2016 2:11:39 PM

harvest 2134jpg

Rice on a seed increase of LA2134 is harvested at the H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station.
The line has been approved as a variety, CL153.

Louisiana rice farmers had excellent weather to get the 2015 crop out of the fields, but the harvest was a decline from the two exceptional harvests of the past two years, according to LSU AgCenter experts.

“This is not going to be one of the harvests for the record books,” said Steve Linscombe, director of the H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station. He estimated the 2015 harvest is down 10-15 percent from last year.

He said the north Louisiana rice crop endured unusually hot, dry weather that could affect grain quality.

“This has been one of the most difficult years for rice producers that they’ve seen in a long time,” said Dustin Harrell, LSU AgCenter rice specialist, who estimated the yield decrease at 10 percent.

Harrell and Linscombe said heavy rainfall from March until May, and frequent overcast skies, were major reasons for lower yields. More clouds mean less sunshine for photosynthesis, and that resulted in fewer and smaller grains per panicle, Linscombe said.

Harrell said the excess rainfall complicated the season because fertilizer applications were delayed. In addition, early in the season, small rice plants were submerged for a considerably long time, he said.

Linscombe said disease was a factor in the harvest. Blast disease, while not as severe as 2012, was an issue in some fields and caused significant yield reduction, he said. “We did have some fields that had a significant issue with Cercospora.”

Bacterial panicle blight also showed up, he said, but sheath blight was not as bad as usual probably because fungicides worked well against that disease.

“Quality seems to be OK, especially on our earlier planted rice,” Linscombe said. But later planted rice that matured during the hotter temperatures showed higher levels of chalk and lower head rice and total milled yields in some cases, he said.

He said second-crop yields were up considerably from 2014, and a few growers were reporting yields as high as half to 60 percent of their first crop results.

Don Groth, LSU AgCenter plant pathologist, said early season blast appeared in the 2015 crop. But it didn’t develop into the devastating form, rotten neck blast in most fields, probably because farmers sprayed their affected crops early enough with fungicide.

“They had the warning early enough, unlike in 2012,” he said. However a few fields had yield reductions associated with rotten neck blast.

Groth said bacterial panicle blight was found in some fields of Jazzman, but he expected the disease to be more widespread because of the hot weather as the crop matured. The heat inhibited widespread development of sheath blight and blast, he said.

Even though planting was delayed by weather, harvest went smoothly with few rain interruptions. Dry weather prevented farm equipment from rutting up the fields, Linscombe said, and that means a good start for farmers growing a second crop of rice.

Linscombe said he is noticing more farmers manipulating rice stubble, either by rolling or mowing the remaining stalks, to increase ratoon crop yields, as shown in studies conducted by Harrell.

Keith Fontenot, who retired as LSU AgCenter county agent in Evangeline Parish, said rice farmers there reported mixed results, with yields from 40 to 55 barrels (131-180 bushels or 59-81 hundredweight). He said one farmer only managed 26 barrels (85 bushels or 38 cwt.) in a field suddenly hit with rotten neck blast.

Fontenot said he’s seeing many farmers preparing fields for a second crop. “I’m amazed at the amount of work I see happening. Everybody looks like they’re going to have a second crop.”

And the second crop turned out to be a bright spot for many farmers. Paul Zaunbrecher, who farms with his two brothers in Acadia Parish, said the first field of ratoon rice they cut averaged 25 barrels (82 bushels or 37 cwt.) and he had heard of some farmers cutting in excess of 30 barrels. “It could be the best year ever for second crop.”

Zaunbrecher said the second crop results seemed to verify the notion that a rice crop that doesn’t perform well in the first crop will compensate in the ratoon.

He said the challenge in the first part of the growing season reduced their yield to the low 40s, (130 bushels or 59 cwt.) compared to 52 barrels (170 bushels or 77 cwt.) last year.

Paul Johnson, who farms near Hayes in Cameron Parish, said the 2015 second crop started with promising results, yielding 20 barrels (66 bushels or 30 cwt.) from Jazzman II.

“We were cutting 28 barrels (92 bushels or 41 cwt.) in the first crop. Everybody I talk to says second crop yields are up,” Johnson said.

He said his first crop yields were down by 15 percent from 2014. “The rice looked good, but it just didn’t yield.”

Johnson is pleased with the quality. “It’s as good if not better than the first crop.”

Barrett Courville, who retired as LSU AgCenter county agent in Acadia and Jefferson Davis parishes, said yields are off by about 4 barrels an acre (13 bushels or 6 cwt.) from last year. He said farmers were growing second crops on at least half of the rice acreage in Acadia and Jefferson Davis parishes.

Alan Lawson, Crowley rice farmer and president of the Acadia Parish Rice Growers Association, said his yields early in the harvest started around 40 barrels an acre (131 bushels or 59 cwt.) but improved as he went to more fields, up to the low-50 barrels (164 bushels or 74 cwt.).

“Yields are not as good as they have been in past few years, but they’re better than some I’ve heard in surrounding parishes.”

Andrew Granger, LSU AgCenter county agent in Vermilion Parish, said yields were down from last year, also.

“We’re four to five barrels short (13-16 bushels or 6-7 cwt.),” he said. “We’re not going to average 44 barrels (144 bushels or 65 cwt.) like we did last year.”

In north Louisiana, Keith Collins, county agent in Richland Parish, said this year’s crop was respectable but not as good as last year.

“It’s off a tad, but not much,” Collins said. “Some farmers have as good a crop as last year, and some are off by 5 to 10 percent.”

He said he doesn’t expect farmers to increase rice acreage next year in north Louisiana. “Right now, they’re in survival mode, and I don’t see an increase until we have higher prices.”

Farmer Jim Lingo of Oak Grove said his crop varied from fair to good, depending on when the weather would allow him to plant. Earlier planted rice had the best yields, he said. But his yields were better than last year’s because he was able to plant earlier.

Next year, Lingo said, rice acreage in north Louisiana will drop. “The rice acres are going to be down unless we have a price swing.”


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Rick Zaunbrecher, director of the Rice Research Station foundation seed program, far right, works with student worker Zachry Istre to bundle rice cut from a breeding row.
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