Bruce Schultz | 8/17/2005 2:32:07 AM
Louisiana farmers are pleased with the 2005 rice harvest so far, but good yields are being offset by uncertainty and low prices.
"Right now my yields are off the charts," said farmer Jeffrey Sylvester of Whiteville. "I didn’t think it would be this good."
Sylvester estimated he’s averaged 48 barrels on the 300 acres he had cut so far at about the middle of August, adding optimistically, "I don’t look for it to fall off."
Dr. Steve Linscombe, a regional director and rice breeder for the LSU AgCenter, said indications are the harvest will continue at the current level.
"From everything I have heard, the yields are holding up," Linscombe said.
In fact, he said late-week reports last week (Aug. 8-14) were coming in with yields exceeding 50 barrels an acre. "It’s pretty phenomenal," Linscombe said.
About half of the South Louisiana crop remains in the field, according to Linscombe, who said almost two-thirds of that could be harvested now.
Figures released Monday (Aug. 15) by the U.S. Department of Agriculture show the harvest running later than usual – and their reports showed 29 percent of the state's rice crop, including northern and southern Louisiana crops, has been cut. That compares to 52 percent harvested this time last year, which was more in line with the five-year average.
Keith Fontenot, an LSU AgCenter county agent in Evangeline Parish, said he’s heard good reports of the harvest that just started.
"It sounds like the crop is going to be good. If they’re not cutting 40 barrels, they are disappointed," he said. "More than a third of the crop in Evangeline Parish is harvested."
The harvest picture is no different to the south of there.
Farmer Charles Reiners of Branch said yields "are back to where they should be," adding that "Last year it was way off."
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average state yield was 33 barrels an acre in 2004.
But the better yields this year have come with challenges. For example, Reiners said he has not been able to get a good price for his crop from area rice mills.
Jackie Loewer, who farms near Reiners, said he’s pleased with his yields, but the harvest is only part of the rice farming picture.
"No matter how much we make, with the prices we have we can’t make expenses," Loewer said.
Farmer Kim Frey of Mowata said fields are producing "decent yields" around 50 barrels an acre.
Kevin Berken of Lake Arthur said in previous years, he had a goal of 42.5 barrels, and this year he expects to exceed that.
"The harvest is going fabulous," said Joe Guidry, manager of the Thornwell Warehouse Association. "The yields are fantastic."
He said the average yield is 45 barrels green, and the quality is good, too.
Yields and quality also are good at the Lake Arthur Rice Drier with half the crop still in the field, according to manager Donald Woods. He said yields have ranged from 28 to 59 barrels.
"I would imagine the average is in the high 40s," Woods said.
Howard Cormier, an LSU AgCenter county agent in Vermilion Parish, agreed that yields are good.
"The harvest itself is going beautifully," Cormier said, adding that several farmers have yields of 50 barrels an acre, with most in the 40s.
But good yields in Vermilion Parish are tempered by the recently announced cutback by the Riviana mill in Abbeville, Cormier pointed out. "It just puts another damper on things," he said.
Cormier said he’s heard reports of harvests in a barrels-per-acre range from the upper 30s to the mid-40s, but he’s also seen a few exceeding 50 barrels. And a small field of hybrid rice yielded more than 60 barrels, he said.
"The question is where are we going to put all this rice?" Cormier said. "If you don’t have any place to store it, it’s going to be a tremendous waiting game."
Linscombe said mills usually start milling freshly harvested rice by now, but that isn’t happening because of a surplus on the market left from last year.
Dr. Ron Levy, LSU AgCenter county agent in Acadia Parish, said the second crop that will be harvested in late October will add to that inventory.
"There is a tremendous crop out there, better than anticipated," Levy said. "Because of low prices, farmers are probably going to put a lot of their crop under loan, hoping for an increase in pricing."
Levy said he’s getting reports of yields of 46 to 52 barrels an acre, with a few as high as 60 barrels.
Rustin Gilder of Crowley Grain said rains that slowed the first part of the harvest have tapered off, enabling farmers to harvest their crops without rutting fields.
"They’re making high 40s for the most part, with quite a few 50-barrel fields," Gilder said. "All varieties are producing very, very nicely."
LSU AgCenter county agent Keith Normand of St. Landry Parish said the harvest has gotten off to a late start there, but he added it still "sounds like the crop is going to be good."
Likewise, Jerry Whatley, LSU AgCenter county agent in Calcasieu Parish, said harvest has been delayed slightly, but the results are pleasing so far.
"Yields are looking very good," Whatley said. "They’re just hoping they’ll hold up."
Jefferson Davis Parish yields are much better than last year’s disappointing harvest, said Eddie Eskew, LSU AgCenter county agent in Jefferson Davis Parish.
"It looks like we’re a little over 50 percent harvested, and it looks really good," Eskew said. "It looks like a big percentage of what has been cut will be second cropped."
Unfortunately, however, Eskew said any fields harvested after Aug. 15 probably won’t make a second crop.
Summing up the problems farmers are facing, Eskew said. "Yields are very good, but prices are horrible. There’s a lot of apathy out there because of the price."
He said farmers also face increased production costs couple with the $10-a-barrel price and uncertainty about farm programs.
Dr. Johnny Saichuk, the LSU AgCenter’s rice specialist, said large fields are often producing yields of 40 to 50 barrels an acre.
And he added that favorable weather played a big role in the crop’s success – although he’s still not sure what the yield will be for farmers in Northeast Louisiana who grow rice.
The bulk of the state’s rice crop is grown in southwestern Louisiana – with more than 533,000 acresdevoted to rice production last year across the state. Despite problems with weather and yields in 2004, the rice crop still meant nearly $324 million to the state’s economy, according to figures from the LSU AgCenter’s 2004 Louisiana Summary of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Writer: Bruce Schultz at (337) 788-8821 or email@example.com