Row rice growing in popularity in north Louisiana

Row rice continues to gain in popularity in north Louisiana, where farmers are taking advantage of the growing technique’s flexibility — it requires no need for levees and allows for potential water savings.

The LSU AgCenter has several research projects to help farmers with this new method.

Dustin Harrell, LSU AgCenter extension rice specialist, estimates that row rice acreage totaled 35,000 in 2020, compared to 15,000 in 2019.

County agents Keith Collins in Richland, Dennis Burns in Tensas and Bruce Garner in Morehouse worked with farmers with on-farm demonstrations.

“Our objective was to help figure out some best management practices, and the big one is water,” Collins said. “I think we’ve got a firm handle on how to grow it.”

Collins, who is retiring this January, said more work is needed to determine how little water is needed, particularly on clay soils, and to fine-tune nitrogen applications and timing.

“If row rice is here to stay, we need to know more about it,” Collins said. “I don’t see us going the other way.”

He said row rice requires more management but it has an obvious advantage.

“If you ask farmers, the first response is, ‘No levees,’” Collins said.

Scott Franklin of Holly Ridge Rice and Grain Terminal near Rayville said many farmers were encouraged to grow row rice because crop insurance coverage was approved starting with the 2020 crop.

“That changed the game and made it bankable,” Franklin said.

He said banks wouldn’t make crop loans without insurance before.

“The word right now is people who grew row rice are hooked on it and they’ll grow more acres,” Franklin said.

Collins said the Richland Parish field farmed by Elliot Colvin yielded about 175 bushels (49 barrels) on the hybrids, while conventional varieties were about 20-30 bushels fewer than the hybrids. He said that was surprising, “considering what this rice has been through.”

Collins explained that hurricanes Laura and Delta beat up the crop that also received 18-20 inches of rainfall. The field was planted June 2.

“Our varieties we cut, including the hybrids, were about half of what they should be,” Collins said.

He said much of the rice in the Richland Parish field was knocked down by Hurricane Delta.

Collins said the 92,000 acres of rice in northeast Louisiana were an increase of more than 30,000 acres, and he said the jump was related to the low prices of other commodities at planting.

Bruce Garner said the results of the project at Jason Waller’s farm in Morehouse Parish as well as other farmers’ fields was “kind of heartbreaking.”

He said the rice was in the flowering stage when Hurricane Laura interfered with pollination. Everything was done on time, he said, but the rice couldn’t overcome the damage from the first storm.

Before the storm, he thought the crop would do well.

“The plots looked great,” he said. “That’s what’s so frustrating about it.”

Then came Delta, and much of the rice lodged, especially the variety Diamond and CL16, but he said CL153 stood well.

Garner said the best yield came from the hybrid XL7521 with 117 bushels per acre, or 33 barrels. Conventional varieties came in at 60-80 bushels (17-22.5 barrels), he said.

“It was horrible,” Garner said.

The plots were planted late on May 23 because of wet weather in early May, he said, and that put the crop in the Laura’s crosshairs.

Burns said the 36-acre field on the Heath Herring farm in Tensas Parish was cut in early October, and it yielded about 160 bushels (45 barrels) of Gemini hybrid.

Burns said disease and insect and weed pressure were no worse than usual.

He said using a roller-groover on the soil helped promote even emergence and drainage.

“Everything was more uniform,” Burns said.

Prior to heading the field had only received 1 4.8 acre-inches of irrigation water. After heading the field was watered about every four days at a slow rate to make sure the heavy clay soil was adequately moistened.

“He did not hold the water on that field,” he said.

Fertilization of 200 pounds of nitrogen was applied in five applications, first as a starter, and then four more shots one week apart starting at early tiller.

Burns said Herring did have a problem with the pipe busting.

“By the end of the summer, it starts to tear. When that pipe gets hot, it stretches and gets thin,” Burns said.

He said the pipe can be patched but it requires monitoring when the pump is running.

Burns also has been working on a project to inject fertilizer into irrigation water carried by poly pipe.

This was the project’s second year, and Burns said the results look promising.

“We took what we learned the first year and modified our techniques and application and it did a much better job,” Burns said.

The 1.5-acre test plots on 6 acres at the St. Joseph Research Station were harvested Oct. 22. One plot was continuously flooded, and fertilizer was applied conventionally in a single application.

There were three treatments compared to the standard flooded plot. Two of them were mimicking the farmer standard of applying three split applications of 46 pounds of urea at one-week intervals. The difference in the farmer standards was holding or not holding floodwater. The other plot was fertilized at the same rate and time interval by injecting fertilizer into the irrigation water being carried by poly pipe.

Yield results were inconclusive because of heavy bird damage right before harvest. Aerial imagery showed a more uniform nitrogen application than 2019.

He said the urea ammonium nitrate (UAN) fertilizer, 32%, was applied in the poly pipe three times during the growing season at the rate of 45 pounds per acre, roughly the same amount that farmers use in north Louisiana.

“We try to mimic what the farmers are doing as close as possible,” Burns said.

In 2019, the fertilizer was injected into the water as pumping began, but this year the injections were not made until the poly pipe was full of water, he said.

“You could tell looking at it that it was much more uniform than the year before,” he said.

Burns said the project was carried out on a field that previously was used to grow soybeans. The ground was leveled, and then a roller-groover was used to make channels for the water 38 inches apart.

Burns said water samples were taken after the fertilizer was injected into the water, which took about two minutes, and the fertilizer distribution was much more uniform than last year.

Burns said he’s not aware of any farmers using this fertilization process in Louisiana. He said the idea came about when a corn farmer asked R.L. Frazier, county agent in Madison Parish, about the possibility of using it in corn.

Row Rice 1JPG

Poly pipe is used on the Jason Waller Farm near Mer Rouge to irrigate a field of row rice. The area suffered from the effects of hurricanes and a tropical storm that hurt yields. This field on Waller’s farm was part of a study conducted on row rice, a method gaining widespread use in northeast Louisiana.

11/24/2020 10:22:13 PM
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