Bruce Schultz, Linscombe, Steven D., Salassi, Michael | 12/15/2015 3:48:03 AM
News Release Distributed 12/14/15
NEW ORLEANS – Retired LSU AgCenter county agent Keith Fontenot and rice farmer Jimmy Hoppe, of Fenton, Louisiana, were recognized at the USA Rice Outlook Conference for their decades of work in the rice industry.
The conference, held Dec. 9-11, set a USA Rice conference record, with 925 people in attendance.
Fontenot received the Rice Industry Award for his work with rice farmers for more than 30 years.
“I’ve been blessed to work in an area where we have some of the best rice producers in the world,” Fontenot said.
Looking back on his career, Fontenot said he enjoyed his work. “It was a good job to go to, and a fun job to go to. You couldn’t ask for a finer group of people to work with.”
He said he was fortunate to work with the faculty at one of the best research facilities in the world, the LSU AgCenter H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station at Crowley.
USA Rice presents a united effort. “It’s very important we work together and not splinter and attack things,” Fontenot said. He will continue to work with rice farmers, assisting with the LSU AgCenter Rice Verification Program.
Hoppe received the Lifetime Achievement Award. He grew 50 crops of rice in his farming career. Even in retirement, Hoppe is active in the rice industry. He continues a specialty rice business and is active in several agriculture-related organizations.
Hoppe said he made lifelong friends in the various rice organizations. “They are here, and they stay with me,” he said. “And I remember them all.”
One of those friends is Tim Walker of Horizon Ag.
“Jimmy Hoppe is one who reached out to me when I started my career,” Walker said.
The Rice Awards are sponsored by Rice Farming magazine, Horizon Ag and USA Rice.
Among those honored at the event was Kevin Norton, Louisiana state conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, who received the USA Rice Distinguished Conservation Achievement Award.
Rice farmers have led conservation efforts in agriculture “and turned it into the gold standard for agriculture,” Norton said.
Also at the awards ceremony, farmer Allen McLain, of Vermilion Parish, was one of seven applicants chosen for the 2016 USA Rice Leadership Development Program. The selections also included LSU graduate Sunny Bottoms, of Horizon Ag.
John Deere, RiceTec, Inc. and American Commodity Company are sponsors of the
Rice Leadership Development Program through a grant to the Rice Foundation.
During the conference, LSU AgCenter economist Mike Salassi said this year’s excellent second crop boosted the state harvest totals to around the 7,000-pound-per-acre mark. “It’s bringing our yield back to where we like to see it.”
This year’s 412,000-acre crop is not expected to change much for 2016, he said. Indications are that the statewide average price of $12.20 per hundredweight won’t change much. “It looks like they may stabilize for the next three to four months.”
Steve Linscombe, director of the rice research station, said the newest rice varieties approved for release by the AgCenter are a long-grain Clearfield variety, CL153, and a medium-grain variety, CL272.
CL153 will address the problems of CL151 with lodging and blast susceptibility. In addition, grain quality will be superior to CL151, he said.
CL272 will have improved cereal chemistry, Linscombe said. It is being considered by Kellogg Inc.
Herbicide-resistant Provisia rice is undergoing a seed increase in Puerto Rico now, and the first variety should be available in two to three years. “We feel confident we have one or two lines that will fit production in the southern United States,” he said.
The Louisiana Rice Research Board funded the purchase of new equipment to help accelerate marker-assisted breeding by facilitating the selection of desirable traits earlier in the breeding process. “We feel like it will increase our selection efficiency earlier in the program,” Linscombe said.
The AgCenter hybrid rice program could have a commercial release within the next two to three years, with an emphasis on reducing plant height and good grain quality.
Also at the conference, political advisers and commentators Mary Matalin and James
Carville gave their view of the current political scene.
The upcoming presidential race is unpredictable, Carville said. “This is like a 1958 NASCAR race. You don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Carville and Matalin, his wife, agreed that the U.S. policy on Cuban relations is destined to change. “There’s too much interest in it, and too much political support,” Matalin said.
More family farms could exist with changes in government policy that would encourage people to consider agriculture as a livelihood, Matalin said.
Carville, a native of Louisiana, said he is the grandson of a rice farmer, and his uncle was a county agent. He said he eats rice often. “You just keep growing it and distributing it, and I’ll keep eating it.”
Mike Strain, commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, said the increasing demand for food will require technology to increase production. He said the LSU AgCenter has made “tremendous progress to increase productivity.”
David Kohl, a Virginia Tech economist, cautioned farmers to be financially conservative, retaining cash for the ongoing downturn and reducing unnecessary expenses. After a decade of prosperity, agriculture will be in an “economic reset” for the next four years, he said.
Farmland prices are declining, Kohl said, creating good opportunities for buying farms.
A Cuban trade official, Ruben Arrieta, said progress is being made to normalize trade relations between the U.S. and Cuba. “Cuba within the last five to seven years started the transformation of our economy.”
Land has been distributed to farmers, but Cuba needs U.S. commodities, he said.
Jim Weisemeyer, of Informa Economics, said rice farmers will benefit from trade with Cuba, but the normalization will be gradual.
The U.S. agricultural economy is in a slump with lower prices. “It’s not going to be as bad as the 1980s when it was the depression for agriculture, but it has some of the same trends,” Weisenmeyer said.
Overall, U.S. farm income is down 38 percent this year, he said, and a strong dollar is hurting exports of U.S. agricultural products. China’s economy will cause developing countries to suffer.
But Weisemeyer said China will start buying U.S. rice in 2016. He also said U.S. rice farmers should benefit from higher prices in the coming year.Bruce Schultz