At left, rice producer Phillip Leonards, left, meets with Acadia Parish LSU AgCenter Extension agent Jeremy Hebert during one of the weekly visits to Leonards’ 2023 rice verification plot in Roberts Cove. Allen Parish rice grower Eric Savant used more traditional methods in treating his 2023 rice verification plot. Savant, seen here spot spraying for rice weed control, also experimented with poultry litter as an alternative to the costly nitrogen fertilizer treatments. Photos by Ronnie Levy/LSU AgCenter
The LSU AgCenter Rice Verification Program helped guide a handful of south Louisiana growers through the 2022 rice season with research-backed instruction that yielded promising results.
Ronnie Levy, an AgCenter rice specialist, and Keith Fontenot, an extension associate, hosted the verification program’s 25th season of teaching rice growers the finer points of Louisiana rice production. Levy and Fontenot guide the enrolled growers through the steps of rice production throughout the season, from pre-planting soil testing to ratoon crop residue management. Meeting with the growers, and their corresponding extension agents, on a weekly basis allows the veteran rice specialists to discuss their recommendations and suggestions for producing a viable rice crop.
“In the verification program, we help the producers identify some of the problems that they may be facing,” Levy said. “And it helps them understand the research that is being done at the Rice Station. It’s a good teaching tool — not only for our young producers who are new to farming, but also for the extension agents who may not have had much experience in rice production.”
This year, four south Louisiana rice fields were enrolled in the program.
Philip Leonards, of Acadia Parish, planted a 50-acre field of CLL17 near Roberts Cove. He said through the verification program, he observed the importance of proper nitrogen fertilizer timing, especially with the relatively cold start to the 2022 growing season.
“We learned a lot with that, especially with the rates of certain chemicals, like Command, that we were putting down with the cold,” said Leonards. “We learned a lot about the timing of fertilizer — at what stage are you wasting a little bit when you’re putting it out too early or too late.”
Levy corroborated the importance of proper fertilizer application timing as weather interfered with application in some instances. After seeing the effects of nitrogen depletion this year, he said he and Fontenot are instructing growers to add more of their nitrogen regimen earlier in the growing season to prevent the likelihood of weather delaying their fertilizing efforts.
“We are looking at putting more nitrogen earlier on the plants, so we don’t show any nitrogen deficiencies within the season,” Levy said. “Most producers are putting about two-thirds up front. We’re trying to encourage them to put all of their nitrogen — or at least 75% of it — prior to the permanent flood.”
Alex Sylvester enrolled a 65-acre field of Dyna-Gro 263L in St. Landry Parish, near the Evangeline Parish border. He said the verification program demonstrated that a successful rice harvest is not necessarily the product of an exorbitant economic investment.
“You don’t always have to spend a bunch of money on chemicals to make a good rice crop,” Sylvester said. “In the verification field that we grew, we didn’t treat it with that much stuff, and it produced very good rice.”
In Allen Parish, producer Eric Savant planted a 150-acre plot of RiceTec Max-Ace. He said the verification program offers networking opportunities with the AgCenter’s rice researchers.
“It gets you connected with the AgCenter personnel,” Savant said. “It helps keep you up to date with what’s going on with new varieties, new herbicides.”
Father and son team Steven and Kyle Quebedeaux planted a 42-acre field of Dyna-Gro 263L. Vince Deshotel, an AgCenter agent for St. Landry Parish, said the Quebedeauxs’ verification field produced a good stand of rice, despite some weed issues that were prevalent because the field was previously in crawfish production.
“The timing of some herbicide applications didn’t quite work the way we wanted them to, but all in all, we got good results from that field,” Deshotel said.
Though the growers who were enrolled in the verification program in 2022 faced the same challenges as their fellow growers, they were guided in overcoming those challenges with expertise from Levy and Fontenot. Late summer rains stalled the harvest across the rice belt extending the process by weeks, in some cases. Levy said the stalled harvest contributed to some yield losses caused by grain quality issues. Grain moisture content settled between 12% and 13% for some of the harvested fields — a level that Levy said is too low for that stage of the harvest.
“We had some yield losses associated with shattering and lodging,” Levy said. “Those things happen any time you have those kind of weather conditions.”
The persistently dry spring and summer seasons increased weed pressure in the verification plots. Levy and Fontenot instructed several of the growers to apply additional applications of herbicides to knock down grass and broadleaf weed pressures.
Despite the weather-imposed challenges of weed pressure and delayed harvesting, the verification plots offered satisfying yields, Levy said.
“We were happy with the yields in the verification fields, but because of the rain, we weren’t able to harvest them when they were ready. So that had an impact on the milling quality.”
Initially, plans were made to harvest a ratoon crop in a couple of the verification plots, but Levy said those plans were scrapped after the August rains garnered rutted fields making crawfish production a more viable option.
Levy said Leonards, Sylvester and the Quebedeauxs will be enrolled in the verification program for the 2023 season, as well. He said a northeast Louisiana rice field will also be in the program.
Producers who may be interested in enrolling in the Rice Verification Program for 2023 or subsequent years can contact their parish extension agents or Levy at the H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station.