2010 rice season displays mix of good news with not so good

Frances Gould  |  6/30/2011 7:43:41 AM

The Louisiana rice harvest went smoothly in 2010, and it was considered an average year for many farmers – although there was a wide range of results. LSU AgCenter scientists concluded part of the variation stemmed from unusually warm nights that interfered with plants’ ability to produce complete rice panicles.

The 2010 rice crop was a mix of good news and not-so-good. On the good side, there were no hurricanes. But the downside came when the harvest revealed rice had been affected by excess heat.

Dr. Steve Linscombe, LSU AgCenter regional director and director of its Rice Research Station, said yields from the 2010 crop varied from poor to excellent. “It was probably one of the most erratic crops I’ve ever seen,” he said, reflecting on his 28 years of work with Louisiana rice. “The spread was a lot more dramatic than we normally see.”

Linscombe said summer weather that brought unusually high nighttime temperatures is suspected of being one of the reasons for the inconsistency, particularly for south Louisiana growers. The average low temperature in June at the station for the past 30 years has been 72 degrees, he said. This year, however, the average was 75.6 degrees. Warmer nights cause plants to respire more, using carbohydrates that normally would be expended toward grain production, Linscombe explained. Bacterial panicle blight also thrives with warm nights, he said, and the disease also reduced yields.

But Linscombe said good yields also were common for all varieties. “Not everybody had really significant reductions,” he said. Yields in Louisiana overall were better than farmers experienced in Arkansas, Linscombe added. “They had some serious problems. Some late-planted rice had yields reduced by half with bad milling,” he said of the experience in Arkansas this year.

LSU AgCenter rice specialist Dr. Johnny Saichuk said the fields he monitored in the verification program also had lower yields than in 2009, adding, however, “They did better than most.”

Saichuk said weather and several diseases were a problem. “The main issue was the heat, which led to everything else,” he said, adding that north Louisiana growers also had inconsistent yields.

Keith Fontenot, LSU AgCenter county agent in Evangeline Parish, said the results of the 2010 crop varied, with good yields tempered by below-average yields.

"It was not good compared to what they did last year," Fontenot said. Yields early in the harvest were low, he said, but improved overall as the season progressed.

"A couple of farmers cut 62 barrels an acre (223 bushels or 100 hundredweight)," he said. "We have some who averaged 48 and 50 barrels (172-180 bushels or 78-81 cwt)."

Fontenot said some fields that appeared to have good yield potential didn’t live up to those expectations. "It looked like it would yield well, but the rice didn’t have any weight to it," he explained. "There were good yields, but we just didn’t have the record-setting yields we had before."

Fontenot said some fields were afflicted with more bacterial panicle blight than usual.

Evangeline Parish’s 2010 rice acreage, at 47,590 acres, had increased more than 5,000 acres from the 2009 level.

Fontenot said it’s difficult to tell what farmers will do in 2011. "A lot of them are waiting to see how they finish off this year. Many still have rice left to sell."

Farmer Charles Bruchhaus of Jefferson Davis Parish said his 1,200- acre crop of rice was "only average."

Overall, Bruchhaus said, his yield averaged 43 barrels green (155 bushels or 69.6 cwt), although some fields were as much as 58 barrels (208 bushels or 94 cwt), and the first field he cut for his second crop in late October was 14 barrels (50 bushels or 23 cwt).

Bruchhaus said he was satisfied with selling some rice for $20 a barrel, but he’s hoping the price will increase more. He also hopes soybean prices will remain high, prompting farmers in Arkansas and north Louisiana to move rice acreage into soybeans.

That’s what Donna Lee, LSU AgCenter county agent in East Carroll Parish., is expecting for 2011.

She said rice acreage almost doubled there from 8,300 acres in 2009 to 15,065, probably because farmers see it as a relatively reliable crop. But she expects the amount of rice to decline in 2011 because of high soybean prices.

Lee said the 2010 results in her north Louisiana area were not as good as 2009.

"We had a good crop, anywhere from 160 to 180 bushels per acre (44- 50 barrels or 71-81 cwt)," she said.

Winds from thunderstorms caused some lodging, and the variety Catahoula appeared to hold up to the wind best, according to Lee.

Stuart Gauthier, LSU AgCenter county agent in Vermilion Parish, said that parish’s growers planted 61,000 acres in rice, an increase of 20,000 acres from 2009.

Gauthier characterized the Vermilion Parish crop as fair.

"It wasn’t the best year, but it wasn’t the worst year," Gauthier said.

Farmers drill-seeded a large portion of the rice, which allowed them to use effective seed treatments for rice water weevils, Gauthier said.

"For the most part, the biggest problem was bacterial panicle blight – and sheath blight in some fields," Gauthier said.

The Vermilion county agent said a second crop was grown on only 10-15 percent of the acreage. "A lot of people said they didn’t have enough bin space," Gauthier explained.

He also said low prices at harvest probably put a damper on plans to grow a second crop.

Gauthier said the early and late-planted rice overall didn’t do as well as the rice planted between those two extremes.

The dry fall weather enabled farmers to work their fields and prepare for next year, he said.

Barrett Courville, LSU AgCenter county agent in Acadia and Jefferson Davis parishes, said the 2010 crop probably was average.

"We just got spoiled by last year’s yields," Courville said.

He said Jefferson Davis Parish farmers probably averaged 5 to 8 barrels (18-29 bushels or 8-13 cwt) less than in 2009, and Acadia Parish yields probably declined by 3 to 5 barrels (11-18 bushels or 5-8 cwt) from 2009.

"The crop looked really good all through the growing season," Courville said. "It just didn’t yield as well as we expected."

But he said second-crop yields were better than usual, with 15-20 barrels not uncommon.

Acadia Parish led rice acreage in Louisiana in 2010, with 84,299 acres, followed by Jefferson Davis with 82,612. In 2009, rice acreage in Acadia totaled 79,433, and Jefferson Davis was at 79,000.

Courville said he expects rice acreage in the two parishes to drop slightly in 2011, with more fields being planted in soybeans for 2011.

Jeff Durand, who farms with his brothers in St. Martin Parish, said the year was somewhat disappointing.

"We started out doing OK, but the yields fell off about halfway through the harvest," Durand said. "Prices have come up, so it’s a little easier to swallow that pill."

Durand said heavy storms lodged some of the rice, and he reported his first fields averaged roughly 50 barrels (180 bushels or 81 cwt), although those results dwindled the further he moved into harvest. "The last rice only cut 30 barrels (108 bushels or 49 cwt). We were hoping to get into 60 barrels like last year."

Durand said the farm’s second crop was cutting 22-23 barrels (79-83 bushels or 35-37 cwt).

Keith Collins, LSU AgCenter county agent in Richland Parish, said the crop there also was just average.

"There were some folks who were off a little," he reported. Some yields were in the range of 175-180 bushels (49-50 barrels or 79-81 cwt) with others at 135-140 bushels (37-39 barrels or 60-63 cwt).

Collins said hot weather during pollination probably affected pollination, and sheath blight was surprisingly bad.

"People thought they should have used two applications of fungicide," he said. "Usually, one application at the right rate will get you through the year."

Northeast Louisiana farmers increased their rice acreage by almost 50,000 acres in 2010.

"My thoughts are right now that our acres will be down next year in this part of the state," Collins said.

He said it’s likely farmers will move acres into cotton, corn and soybeans to take advantage of higher prices for those commodities.

Richland Parish farmer John Owen said the northeast Louisiana crop was favorable.

"Overall, I think northeast Louisiana made a pretty good crop," Owen said. "We just have to find a way to market these low milling yields."

Glenn Daniels, LSU AgCenter county agent in Concordia Parish, also characterized the 2010 crop in his area as average, with most farmers cutting 150 bushels (42 barrels or 68 cwt) per acre.

"Most of the early rice didn’t do as well as the later rice," Daniels said.

The area had abnormally hot weather with no rainfall from late April until the end of May, Daniels said, adding that probably prevented the crop from doing better. "We were pretty much dry for six weeks."

Daniels said he expects rice acreage in Concordia to stay about average – no less than 8,000 acres.

(This article was published in the 2011 Louisiana Rice Research Board Annual Report.)

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