Rice acreage reduced, salt water threatens fields

Linda Benedict, Schultz, Bruce  |  7/20/2011 1:25:20 AM

Farmers in a field east of Gueydan listen to Natalie Hummel, LSU AgCenter entomologist, describe how early planting affects rice water weevil populations. (Photos by Bruce Schultz)

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LSU AgCenter economist Mike Salassi, far right, tells farmers at a July Vermilion Parish Rice Field Day about the rice acreage decline in the nation.

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LAKE ARTHUR, La. – U.S. rice acreage has fallen significantly, and that could affect prices, according to LSU AgCenter economist Mike Salassi.

"Every rice state with the exception of California reduced rice acreage this year," he said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest figures show Louisiana’s 2011 rice acreage at 420,000 acres, 120,000 acres fewer than last year.

Arkansas acreage is at 1.1 million acres, compared with 1.79 million last year, and it is that state’s lowest since 1989. Nationwide rice acreage is 2.6 million acres, down by 960,000, Salassi said, and it is only the fourth time in the past 15 years that the total is less than 3 million acres.

Prices this time last year were $17 to $20 a barrel, compared to the $20-per-barrel range now, and he said he expects prices to increase through January. "We should have prices in the $23-a-barrel range."

One reason rice acreage has declined in Louisiana is high levels of salt in some fields.

Rice plants in a field southeast of Gueydan had a salt content of 4,096 parts per million, said Stuart Gauthier, LSU AgCenter county agent in Vermilion Parish. The LSU AgCenter recommends against planting rice in soils with levels exceeding 750 ppm.

The field had been flooded with salt water from a hurricane, but it showed no problems two years ago, Gauthier said. Then the farmer plowed and laser-leveled the field, and apparently that moved salt.

The locks at Schooner Bayou and Freshwater Bayou could be manipulated, he said. "If we’re going to do this," Courville said about approaching the corps, "we need to do it in a unified voice."

The corps has agreed to coordinate operations at Catfish Locks and Calcasieu Locks to move more freshwater into the Mermentau Basin, a request that resulted from a meeting held last month by the LSU AgCenter in Lake Arthur, he said.

Bruce Schultz

(This article was published in the spring issue of Louisiana Agriculture Magazine.)

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