Farmers say ‘good riddance’ to 2019

rice and combine on Fruge farmjpg

Most farmers would probably like to forget 2019.

“There’s really not anything good to say about this year’s rice crop,” said Dustin Harrell, LSU AgCenter rice extension specialist.

Storms, excessive heat and humidity and high levels of disease all resulted in low yields, low milling and quality problems, he said.

Weather cooperated after the late summer harvest with a drought that allowed farmers to do field work that couldn’t be done in the fall of 2018 because of heavy rains, Harrell said.

Harrell is expecting rice acreage in Louisiana to remain about the same in 2020.

The 2019 crop in Louisiana was grown on 415,000 acres, down from 434,000 in 2018. Long-grain acreage made up 88% of the crop, with the rest in medium grain.

Calcasieu Parish showed a big loss, and it fell from the top 10 rice-growing parishes, going from 11,844 acres in 2018 to 8,238 in 2019. Franklin Parish rice acreage more than doubled with the biggest gain, going from 4,705 in 2018 to 10,428. Morehouse Parish gained more than 4,000 acres.

Don Groth, LSU AgCenter plant pathologist, said disease problems plagued farmers. Fungal diseases thrived in south Louisiana because of unusually wet weather, he said.

Kernel smut and false smut were found throughout south Louisiana, including the H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station.

“I have never seen smut here that early before,” Groth said.

Typically, smuts are more common in north Louisiana. He said yields were probably off by 15% from last year.

“We had some locations where it was more than that,” Groth said. “Overall, it was a tough year from the start.”

He said hybrids tend to be more susceptible to smuts. Fields can be treated effectively with propiconazole fungicides such as Tilt when applied at early boot, Groth said.


Groth said fungicides didn’t work as well against sheath blight as in previous years.

Jeremy Hebert, LSU AgCenter county agent in Acadia Parish, said the 2019 crop disappointed most farmers.

“It kicked them while they were down,” he said.

But he doesn’t expect farmers will make many changes for the 2020 crop, with many farmers planning to plant the same acreage.

He said wind from Hurricane Barry interfered with the progression of the crop, coming at the time of flowering for most fields.

“You couldn’t have picked a better time to come in and do some damage,” he said.

Acadia Parish yields averaged 40 to 41 barrels or 145 to 148 bushels, he said, compared to the 2018 average in Acadia Parish of 46 barrels (165 bushels).

Hebert said farmers cutting a second crop were averaging 10 to 17 barrels, and there were reports of totals exceeding 20 barrels (72 bushels).

Allen Lawson, an Acadia Parish farmer, said the year was frustrating but his yields were only down less than 10%.

“I’m ready for this one to be in the books,” Lawson said.

Lawson said his average last year was 44 barrels, or 160 bushels, and this year he had a 39-barrel average (140 bushels). He said he reduced his second-crop acreage because not all his fields were in shape for a ratoon crop.

“I know several people told me they pumped water on their fields for a second crop and fertilized it, and they’re not even cutting it because it didn’t make,” Lawson said.

Lawson’s best-yielding field, planted with a hybrid, didn’t get seeded until late May, so it missed damage from Hurricane Barry. Smut disease turned his combine black, and in fields to be used for crawfish, stink bugs caused significant damage.

He said he used Provisia rice in a field with a bad outcrossing problem, and it yielded about 35 barrels, or 126 bushels.

Todd Fontenot, LSU AgCenter county agent in Evangeline Parish, said farmers faced wet weather from the beginning of the season.

“The weather was really a big factor,” Fontenot said. “It was wet for so long, and there was not a lot of sunlight.”

Fontenot said Evangeline Parish acreage will probably be about the same in 2020.

He said disease pressure became obvious at harvest, including smuts and sheath blight.

Andrew Granger, LSU AgCenter county agent in Vermilion Parish, said 2019 “was subpar for almost everybody.”

“We had too much rain at the wrong time, and you couldn’t get the land right before planting,” he said.

An 11-inch rain in June came at the worst time, he said, along with Hurricane Barry in mid-July.

Granger estimated yields averaged in the mid-30 barrels (120 to 140 bushel range), 20% less than 2018. Initial reports of second-crop harvests put yields around 10 to 15 barrels, 36 to 52 bushels.

Granger said acreage in Vermilion will probably be stable.

“I was surprised this year’s acreage (48,000) was up a couple thousand acres from last year,” he said.

Keith Collins, LSU AgCenter county agent in Richland Parish, said the northeast Louisiana rice crop was about average. He said the hot, dry weather July through September probably stressed the rice.

“Even hybrids didn’t seem to tiller as well,” he said.

Although the recommended planting window is April 10 through May 10, many weren’t able to plant until late May and even June, he said, because fields were too wet to plant earlier.

He said row rice jumped to 15,500 acres in 2019, double the 2018 total, and most of that was in Morehouse Parish.

Collins said rice acreage will be affected by soybean prices. Rice acreage will remain the same if soybean prices remain low, he said, but an uptick could cause farmers to shift to soybeans.

Scott Franklin, chairman of the Northeast Louisiana Rice Growers Association, said he expects northeast Louisiana rice acreage to increase next year if soybean prices remain in the $9 range. Farmers in the area are likely to use the row rice practice since it has become insurable, he said.

He said yields in his area were down by as much as 25% in some cases, which he blamed on the weather, especially rainy spring weather that prevented farmers from planting on time.

Farmers who couldn’t plant until the last of May or later had poor yields, he said, but more acreage, perhaps as much as 15,000 to 20,000 acres, would have been planted if land hadn’t been submerged by backwater flooding.

Jimmy Meaux, LSU AgCenter county agent in Jefferson Davis, Cameron and Calcasieu parishes, said his area was no different than others this year for disappointing results.

“It seemed like everybody I talked to was down by 15% from their yields last year,” he said.

He said yields average in the upper 30-barrel (110-bushel) range.

Rains interfered with harvest, he said, and rain earlier in the season caused problems with planting, weed control and fertilizer applications.

“It was a horrible year,” said Mark Zaunbrecher, who retired in 2019 as the farmer in charge of growing rice, soybeans and forage for Sweet Lake Farm Partners in Calcasieu Parish.

He said only half of the rice got planted because fields were too wet for groundwork.

“It was a good thing we couldn’t plant the whole crop,” he said.

Rice plants in several fields were covered with floodwaters three times, he said. Hurricane Barry’s winds were brutal on the crop, resulting in blank panicles.

“Just as the plants were flowering, it just got beat to death,” he said.

Zaunbrecher said no attempt was made at growing a second crop because the fields were badly rutted from harvesting.

In St. Martin Parish, farmer Jeff Durand said he and his brothers had a difficult year, and they’d like to forget about it.

“It’s not easy to forget because we’ve got to pay the bills,” he said.

Yields were 35% to 40% less than what they normally expect, he said, and even a hybrid field only cut 33 barrels, or 120 bushels. Normally, he said the hybrid has produced 55 to 60 barrels, or 200 to 220 bushels.

Weather caused problems throughout the growing season, he said, but Hurricane Barry caused significant wind damage. Then a thunderstorm caused more damage.

“All the early rice was headed when it got hit by hail,” he said.

He said propiconazole was effective at preventing smut disease. A nearby farmer didn’t spray, he said, and his combine was covered in black soot from kernel smut.

Durand said they had a bad infestation of weedy rice in one field. Two applications of Newpath barely affected it, he said, so the field probably will be planted in Provisia next year.

He said he’s not sure how much rice they will plant next year, but he doubts they will increase acreage.

12/19/2019 8:29:37 PM
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