The 2014 Louisiana rice crop is either in the bins or already on the table somewhere. One thing that is a constant in Louisiana rice production is that no two growing seasons are ever alike, and 2014 proved to be no different. Rice planting normally begins in southwest Louisiana in early March. The period from late February through early March was fairly wet across most of southwest Louisiana, which delayed dry planting and converted some acres from dry to water planting. March was also considerably cooler than average. The historical average nighttime low for the month of March at the Rice Research Station is about 46 degrees. In March 2014, at this location, the nighttime low was below 40 degrees on 10 different days with the extremes being 28 and 26 degrees on March 3 and 4, respectively. These conditions not only delayed rice seeding in the region but also slowed crop growth and development in the early part of the growing season.
The overall growing season proved to be a very wet one as well. This was a stark contrast from 2013. In 2013, total rainfall from May 1 through August 31 at the Rice Station was about 13 inches, while in 2014 that same period saw a total accumulation of more than 34 inches. Because rice grows under flooded conditions, it is often assumed that a lot of rainfall is favorable for production. While this can decrease pumping costs with much of the flood water provided by Mother Nature, drier conditions in general tend to lead to better rice yields and quality. Excessive rainfall means more cloud cover and thus less radiant energy reaching the plants. Excessive rain can also increase disease pressure from most of the major rice diseases. However, in spite of the excessive rainfall, disease pressure was not overly severe. Sheath blight pressure was typical, while Cercospera, panicle blight and blast pressure was low for the most part.
Another factor critical in rice growth and development is temperature. While warm temperatures are necessary for producing a rice crop, excessive heat can lead to significant decreases in both yield and quality of the crop. While both extreme daytime and nighttime temperatures can be detrimental to the crop, nighttime temperatures are typically more important. The most critical period for temperatures for much of the rice in southwest Louisiana is June through mid-July. The optimum situation for rice is when the daytime high stays below 95 and the nighttime low goes below 75 degrees. Based on these parameters, the summer of 2014 was excellent for rice in the region. From June 1 through July 15 at the Rice Station, there were only two days that the daytime high exceeded 95 degrees (96 on both July 11 and 12) and two nights when the low did not get below 75 degrees (76 on both June 22 and 23). Temperature-wise, after the early cool spring, the growing season for rice was an excellent one in the region.
Because the early cool weather delayed the overall growth and development of the crop, harvest began a little later than normal for most south Louisiana producers. The harvest season proved difficult as almost 13 inches of rain was recorded at the Rice Station during August, and measurable rainfall was recorded on 13 days during the month. This not only delayed harvest on many fields, it also led to a sloppy harvest with many fields being rutted. The combination of delayed maturity and wet harvest conditions extended the first crop harvest season for many producers. This also led to a decrease in the number of acres that produced a second crop, probably less than 30 percent of the acres this year. The second crop was delayed as well because of late first crop harvest and a couple of early cool snaps in the fall. Much of the second crop was harvested in late November, and some was still being harvested in December, which is well beyond the norm.
In spite of the adversity this summer, the 2014 rice crop has turned out to be one of the best ever in both yield and quality. Both first and second crop yields were excellent, for the most part, and some producers cut their best crop ever. Additionally, the quality of this year’s crop was excellent in terms of both head and total rice yields after milling as well as milled rice appearance. One of the main appearance factors is the amount of chalk in the grain. It is not surprising that chalk was fairly low this year because this characteristic is controlled to a large extent by temperature, and lower daytime and nighttime temperatures tend to favor lower chalk levels.
The acreage seeded to medium grains was up this year in Louisiana primarily because of a reduction in rice acres in California. That state, which produces primarily medium grains, has been experiencing water shortages. There was a significant price premium for this medium grain production, when compared to the price for long grains. Long grain prices are down considerably from prices received last year. This coupled with the loss of some price support under the recently enacted farm bill will make it a difficult year economically for many Louisiana rice producers in spite of the fact that overall yields and quality were very good.
This project was partially supported by USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
Permission granted January 15, 2015 by B. Leonards (LA Farm & Ranch) to republish article on www.lsuagcenter.com