Growing rice in northeast Louisiana is primarily an economic decision for farmers in the area. When prices are strong, rice acreage will increase. When prices are low, rice acres tend to shrink. So goes the nature of farming.
In a typical year, rice acreage in north Louisiana will represent somewhere between 15% to 25% of the state’s total acreage. The reason for the fluctuation is that farmers in north Louisiana can easily pivot to other crops such as corn, soybeans or even cotton if those commodities have strong prices.
Farmers in south Louisiana, for several reasons, do not have the option to switch to these commodities.
Growing rice in either area of the state is similar in many ways, but there are some differences. One major distinction is the soil types in each region are different. Also, the weather patterns are somewhat dissimilar.
Another distinction is in north Louisiana, growers can grow row rice. This method is simply growing rice without the traditional levee system used for holding water in flooded rice fields. Growers simply flood their fields using poly pipe tubing, which is commonly used for irrigating other row crops.
When it comes to research, there are some similarities. Sheath blight, Cercospora and blast are major diseases in rice, and Trey Price, a plant pathologist at the LSU AgCenter Macon Ridge Research Station near Winnsboro, is examining ways to combat the disease in plots located in northeast Louisiana.
“We have been testing fungicide efficacy in both flooded and row rice systems,” Price said. “We apply commercial and experimental products at various timings and then rate for disease severity later in the season.”
Price indicated that sheath blight is a disease that can be just as severe in row rice as flooded rice. He said well-timed fungicide applications can preserve yields.
According to Price, other diseases have been more difficult to get a handle on in northeast Louisiana because of less disease pressure compared with southwest Louisiana.
“I’ve spent a good bit of time in both areas, and with more acreage and more frequent rainfall, southwest Louisiana has higher disease pressure,” Price said. “Additionally, our rice breeders have also done an outstanding job developing varieties resistant to blast and Cercospora, and these varieties are grown throughout northeast Louisiana.”
Adam Famoso is the head rice breeder for the AgCenter and is involved with the advanced yield trials for new varieties. He is working with Price at Macon Ridge and Dennis Burns at the Northeast Research Station in St. Joseph. The Northeast station was added because it was conducive to conducting row rice trials.
These trials looked at five different groups: commercially available varieties, advanced conventional lines, Louisiana-derived hybrids, Clearfield experimental lines and potential releases from cooperating public breeding programs in the South.
“At the Macon Ridge station, we have a silt loam soil type,” Burns said, “while at the Northeast station, it is primarily a Sharkey clay. These tests provide data on how well these varieties perform on these two soil types, which are common in this area.”
Burns considers himself serving the role as the farmer and follows LSU AgCenter recommendations throughout the growing season.
“I grow it out just as a farmer would regarding any issues related to weeds, water and fertility,” Burns said. “The only thing I don’t do is harvest it.”
Price said he is working toward doing more rice research at Macon Ridge. He is collaborating with AgCenter researchers Felipe Dalla Lana and Blake Wilson on pathology and entomology projects at the station.
“We have 12 acres of flood rice and about 5 acres of row rice plots available,” Price said. “Plans are to take in an additional 6 acres of flood rice and 5 acres of row rice ground in the near term.”
Price noted that there are an additional 15 acres available that could be used as rotation options to avoid developing weedy rice.
To help producers with weed issues, Connor Webster, a weed scientist with the AgCenter, conducts herbicide trials at sites in northeast Louisiana, primarily at the Northeast Research Station.
One area of study examines extending residual control of weeds in row rice.
“You don’t have a flood to suppress weeds like a typical south Louisiana production system,” Webster said. “We’re looking at different combinations and timings of residual herbicides that will get us closer to crop canopy.”
Webster also said that if the residual herbicides were not effective, he was studying options that producers could employ for better weed control later in the season.
Often times, chemicals used for weed control in other row crops will become new chemical options in rice.
For example, a chemical sold under the trade name Brake recently received a label for use in rice. It is currently used in cotton and peanut production, but limited research has been conducted in rice. In 2024, Webster will be evaluating Brake’s use in rice in northeast Louisiana. Brake could provide much needed control of pigweed in row rice.
“A good deal of our research in northeast Louisiana is aimed at exploring new chemistry and how well it performs on Sharkey clay soils, which are common in northeast Louisiana,” he said.