Although Mother Nature dealt Louisiana rice producers some extremes — a late-February freeze and a rain-delayed planting season — the crop year yielded decent results across the state.
Louisiana rice producers planted about 411,700 acres of rice in 2021, according to preliminary reports, down from the 475,900 acres planted in 2020. The decrease in acreage is due largely to the increased price of soybeans, corn and other crops and constant spring precipitation that discouraged planting in some areas across the state, rice specialists said.
Jeremy Hebert, Acadia Parish extension agent, said it was a challenging year for rice growers. Acadia Parish producers cropped about 84,300 acres of rice in 2021, which marked about a 1,300-acre decrease from 2020.
“We had a lot of cloudy weather and more rainfall than normal,” Hebert said of early 2021. ”It was a challenging year to get the rice up and growing.”
Hebert said Acadiana rice growers began their planting season a little later than most would like because of early spring rains. The consistent precipitation through spring also disrupted the timing of fertilizer and herbicide applications. He said the constant rain created problems with aerial applications of vital chemicals because air strips did not have ample time to dry.
Disease pressures also seemed mild compared to previous years, Hebert noted. That was until panicle blight and rot-neck blast propagated in some of the later-planted rice fields.
“The diseases we didn’t see early on definitely caught up with us on the later-planted fields,” Hebert said.
Mild early summer temperatures did offer a silver lining for the growing season, Hebert said.
“Whenever the rice was flowering, it wasn’t super hot,” Hebert said. “That can disrupt the pollination. We didn’t see that this year.”
The harvest brought lower yields than expected for some farmers. Hebert said the yield increase from PVL02 was absent, contributing to barrel yields that averaged around the low-to-mid 40s.
“The yields were all over the board,” Hebert said of the Acadia Parish harvest. “Overall, we will be down several barrels over last year.”
In Calcasieu, Cameron and Jefferson Davis parishes, producers were still reeling from the tumultuous 2020 hurricane season when it came time to prepare their fields for planting, said Jimmy Meaux, extension agent for those parishes. Farmers clearing debris and fallen trees were then hit with the late-February freeze that further delayed the planting season.
“We didn’t get the early start planting rice,” Meaux recalled of early 2021. “It seems like after most of them finished planting the rains started coming.”
Meaux said most farmers in his area saw unusually wet spring weather. Some near Lake Charles tallied 15 inches of rain in May. The persistent cloud cover and rainfall may have dampened the area’s harvest yields.
“It wasn’t a super year, but, overall, it turned out to be a decent year,” Meaux said.
Extension agent Todd Fontenot, who serves in Evangeline and Allen parishes, said the hard freeze in February may have actually helped lessen some pest and weed pressures in rice fields in his area.
“It looks like the freeze may have reduced some pest populations — particularly stink bugs,” Fontenot recalled. “It may have had some effect on disease pressure with some over-wintering disease pathogens. And it slowed down some weed growth in the spring.”
The persistently cool, cloudy and wet spring and early summer weather forced some producers to change plans for planting from drill-seeding to water-planting when they realized the rains would not relent. Fontenot said that considering the weather-related stressors that plagued growers during the growing season, he and some producers were pleasantly surprised at yield data.
“Everybody was just worried because of the way the year started and everything the rice went through,” Fontenot recalled. “Farmers were surprised in the end. Our overall yields won’t break records, but there were a lot of surprisingly good yields.”
In northeast Louisiana, rice farmers saw much of the same precipitation events during late winter and early spring that delayed planting. Dennis Burns, Tensas Parish extension agent, said there was another anomaly that triggered a drastic decrease in rice acreage over the northeast portion of the state — an increase in prices on the soybean market.
“A lot of acreage that is usually planted in rice went to soybeans,” Burns said.
Burns said about 4,000 acres of rice are typically planted in Tensas Parish. However, in 2021, farmers only planted about 650 acres.
Despite the rain-delayed planting, Burns said northeast growers were satisfied with yields across the board, with some fields marking yields of 190 to 200 bushels
“It was overall a fair year — pretty consistent with what we’ve been doing,” Burns said.
Though soybean acreage overshadowed rice for 2021, more farmers in northeast Louisiana have turned to growing furrow-irrigated rice because of the added flexibility for growing other crops in fallow fields. Since 2017, furrow-irrigated rice acreage has nearly doubled annually in northeast and central Louisiana. Approximately 35,000 acres of furrow-irrigated rice were planted in 2021. Burns said the past two years have produced good results for the burgeoning practice.
“It’s added to the flexibility for us being able to diversify,” Burns said.
Looking toward the 2022 growing season, the price of soybeans, along with a projected increase in fertilizer costs, will dictate rice acreage, Burns said.