Michael Salassi, Breitenbeck, Gary A., Hollier, Clayton A., Linscombe, Steven D., Saichuk, John K., Schultz, Bruce, Groth, Donald E., McClain, W. Ray | 7/15/2006 1:55:09 AM
Encouraging news for Southwest Louisiana farmers came during the four rice field days held recently by the LSU AgCenter.
The Riviana Rice Mill in Abbeville is re-opening under new management for the upcoming harvest as Planters Rice Mill. In addition, a dedicated grain-loading facility at the Port of Lake Charles could be in operation as early as next year. And prices are edging upwards.
On the other side of the ledger, however, was the recent discovery of Asian soybean rust on two kudzu patches south of Lafayette and the decrease in rice acreage, particularly in storm-ravaged Vermilion Parish.
Field days were held in Acadia, Evangeline and Vermilion parishes along with the Southwest Louisiana Rice Tour, which made stops in Jefferson Davis and Calcasieu parishes.
At the Southwest Louisiana Rice Tour July 6, rice farmer Clarence Berken of Jefferson Davis Parish said a feasibility study from McNeese State University shows the rice industry has a $700 million impact on the area economy, but 20 percent of that could be lost without adequate port facilities to ship rice.
Berken said rice mills encountered storage problems at the port last year. Half of the warehouse space that was used for rice went to a company shipping Brazilian wood products to the United States, Berken said. Soda ash will be shipped out of the port and that also will require more space, he said.
Gov. Kathleen Blanco agreed to a $21 million bond issue to build a bulk loading facility and warehouse at the port. It was approved by the legislature, and currently details are being finalized.
Even with the unfinished details, Berken said it’s possible the facility could be in operation by 2007.
Jamie Warshaw of Farmer’s Rice Mill said countries prefer to ship rice in bulk rather than bagged because it is cheaper.
Richard Fontenot, president of the Evangeline Parish Farm Bureau, said many farmers were forced to sell rice to companies in Texas last year.
At the field day in Vermilion Parish on July 11, Howard Cormier, LSU AgCenter county agent in Vermilion Parish, said the management of the new Planters Rice Mill is eager to buy rice from area farmers.
"They made a commitment to the growers that they are in it for the long haul," Cormier said.
He said the facility laid off more than 200 workers employed by Riviana, leaving a staff of 44 employees.
Dane Hebert, Vermilion Parish farmer and president of Vermilion Rice Growers, said he was encouraged the mill will benefit farmers.
"They want to buy as much rice as they can this year," Hebert said.
The group taking over the mill, which includes the Godchaux family of Vermilion Parish and Elton Kennedy of North Louisiana, has a three-year lease with an option to buy the mill.
Dr. Mike Salassi, LSU AgCenter economist, said Louisiana rice acreage of 360,000 acres this year is down 32 percent from last year. Overall, the U.S. total at 2.9 million acres is down by 13 percent, he said.
Prices have increased slightly, according to Salassi, and U.S. use of rice is projected at its highest level ever this year.
Salassi also said work is being done to consider research at the LSU AgCenter’s Rice Research Station near Crowley on the use of rice in ethanol production.
Dr. Gary Breitenbeck of the LSU AgCenter’s Department of Agronomy and Environmental Management, briefed farmers at the Vermilion Parish Field Day on salt contamination of soil from Hurricane Rita. He said some fields have become impermeable to water because of the high amount of sodium from salt water.
"At that point, there’s nothing you can do to put that soil back in production," he said.
Breitenbeck said plowing contaminated fields after they are flooded is probably a good way to speed up the process of eliminating salt.
Farmer David LaCour of Abbeville said he and his father, Francis LaCour, have 1,100 acres that can’t be farmed because of saltwater flooding from Rita. He said testing is being done on his property by private companies to determine if new products can return the salt-contaminated soil to production, and RiceTec is trying several new varieties to determine their ability to grow in soil with high sodium levels.
In Acadia Parish, Dr. Ray McClain, LSU AgCenter crawfish specialist, told farmers that growing a second crop of rice could create problems for crawfish in the same field. The crawfish population could be decreased by draining a field for second-crop harvest, he said.
Water quality could decrease because of decomposition of plant material cut in the harvest, McClain said, and removing the second crop results in a decreased food source.
At the Evangeline Parish Field Day, Dr. Clayton Hollier, LSU AgCenter plant pathologist, said even though Asian soybean rust is being found in isolated sites in the United States, it would be wrong to assume the disease will mirror the devastation experienced by Brazilian growers. Growing conditions in the United States and Brazil are significantly different, he said.
Hollier said the fungus has not been found on soybeans in Louisiana, but he said it’s possible the disease could be found in the crop. "I suspect with these weather patterns we’ve had in the last 10 days, there could be some," he said.
Hollier said chemicals are available to protect plants against the disease and to treat the plants if they already have it.
Dr. Johnny Saichuk, LSU AgCenter rice specialist, told farmers at the Evangeline Parish Field Day July 12 that this year’s crop is doing well.
"I don’t say it’s quite as good as last year, but it looks pretty decent," he said.
Dr. Don Groth, LSU AgCenter plant pathologist, said recent rainfall has brought disease, but the rice crop has matured sufficiently that many fields won’t be affected.
Dr. Steve Linscombe, director of the LSU AgCenter’s Southwest Region and its Rice Research Station, said work is under way to develop a Clearfield line of medium-grain rice. He said by using the winter nursery in Puerto Rico, a variety could be available as early as 2008.
"It is a priority for us," Linscombe said.
Roy Johnson of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry gave Evangeline Parish producers an overview of the Aquaculture Disaster Grant Program. This program is designed to help aquaculture producers statewide recover from aquaculture losses from hurricanes Rita and Katrina.
Johnson said the program would assist producers with property, including buildings and vehicles, in addition to production losses from the storm.
He said the deadline for applying for the aid is July 31.
Mike Salassi at (225) 578-2713 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Gary Breitenbeck at (225) 578-1362 or email@example.com
Ray McClain at (337) 788-7531 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Clayton Hollier at (225) 578-2186 or email@example.com
Johnny Saichuk at (337) 788-7547 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Don Groth at (337) 788-7531 or email@example.com
Steve Linscombe at (337) 788-7531 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Bruce Schultz at (337) 788-8821 or email@example.com