Salt means some La. rice acres won’t be planted

Richard Bogren, Saichuk, John K., Guidry, Kurt M., Fannin, J. Matthew "Matt"  |  4/3/2009 8:59:43 PM

News Release Distributed 04/03/09

Saltwater effects on rice-growing fields may keep farmers from planting as much as 14 percent of the acres they normally devote to rice production in southwest Louisiana, according to an LSU AgCenter report.

The LSU AgCenter surveyed its county agents in rice-producing parishes to provide an estimate of the acreage that would be left unplanted because of high salinity levels, the report said.

“We estimate 35,500 acres won’t be planted to rice in 2009,” said Dr. Kurt Guidry, an LSU AgCenter economist and one of the report’s authors.

“All of these acres are confined to coastal parishes in the southwest part of the state,” Guidry said. “While acres in northeast Louisiana were significantly impacted by hurricanes Gustav and Ike, we believe all of those acres have the ability to be back in production in 2009.”

Past experience with storms of this magnitude suggest the effects will be felt in years to come, said Dr. Matt Fannin, an LSU AgCenter economist and the other author of the report.

“This is particularly true for crops with multiyear production systems such as sugarcane and fruit and nut crops,” Fannin said. “This also has been the case when storm surge from tropical systems left soils and irrigation systems with extremely high salinity levels.”

The economists estimated the initial effect of the 2008 storms was a loss of roughly $91 million – about 24 percent of the pre-storm estimate of farm gate value of Louisiana rice – for the last crop year.

They estimate the inability to place some acreage into production in 2009 because of high salt levels will have an additional economic impact of $36 million in a five-parish region in southwest Louisiana.

“From the most simplistic viewpoint, a reduction in rice acres represents dollars that will not likely be generated and spent in the local communities and in the region,” Guidry said.

The number of acres affected by high salt levels varies by parish and ranges between 1 and 48 percent of normal planted acreage, the survey of LSU AgCenter agents said. Leading the list are Vermilion Parish where acreage estimates are down 48 percent from normal levels and Calcasieu Parish where estimates are down 14 percent from normal acreage.

The storm surge from the hurricanes created significant saltwater problems, particularly in Vermilion, Cameron and Calcasieu parishes, said Johnny Saichuk, LSU AgCenter rice specialist.

“What really hurt was the storm surge was followed by no measurable rain for about three months,” Saichuk said.

Saichuk said the problem arose when salt deposited in the fields by the storms stayed and wasn’t flushed out by normal rainfall. In addition, much of Vermilion Parish rice is irrigated by surface water from canals that either were dry or had high levels of salt in the water, he added.

“Despite the recent rain, some of the fields and canals are still too salty,” Saichuk said. “And some producers say it’s too late to plant.”


Rick Bogren 

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