Steven Linscombe, Saichuk, John K., Schultz, Bruce
Louisiana rice farmers have taken advantage of recently improved weather for planting their 2005 crop, making up for a slow start.
Dr. Ron Levy, LSU AgCenter county agent in Acadia Parish, said planting was delayed by wet, cool and windy conditions.
"All in all, planting has progressed extremely well even though we got a late start," Levy said.
He estimated Wednesday (April 20) that 90 percent of the rice crop in Acadia Parish has been planted.
Levy said many rice farmers who rotate their crops with soybeans will leave fields fallow, and some will plant grain sorghum.
"There will be a drastic reduction in soybean acreage," Levy said.
The LSU AgCenter agent also said the recently announced sale of rice to Iraq has more of a psychological boost, since the amount, 60,000 metric tons, is not significant in the worldwide market. Iraqi officials have suggested they will buy more.
"Farmers are happy it went through, because it will move some rice," Levy said.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture figures, 62 percent of the state’s crop had been planted by April 17 – 12 percent behind last year’s planting progress. Other states are behind by even higher amounts. For example, Arkansas usually has a third of its planting done by now, but the USDA estimate is at 13 percent.
The LSU AgCenter recommends planting rice between March 15 and April 20 in Southwest Louisiana, and April 5 to May 10 in Northeast Louisiana – the state’s two growing areas. Plant survival is not satisfactory until the average daily temperature exceeds 65 degrees F.
Dr. Steve Linscombe, Southwest region director for the LSU AgCenter, said the state’s rice farmers don’t seem to be willing to increase their crops beyond the 533,000 acres planted in 2004.
"I haven’t talked to anybody who’s planting more, but I have talked to people who are planting less," he said.
Linscombe, who also is responsible for the LSU AgCenter’s Rice Research Station at Crowley and is a rice breeder, said his test plots planted as early as March 10 appear to be faring well.
"It has really taken off," he said.
Linscombe said many farmers have entered the 2005 season while still holding rice from the previous growing year.
"We’ve got a lot of rice in the bins right now," the LSU AgCenter expert explained of last year’s crop that remains unsold.
That’s the case for Glenray Trahan of Kaplan. He said he hopes to empty his bins of his remaining medium-grain rice next week.
Trahan said he cut back on last year’s crop of 1,250 acres to 950 acres this year – although he was happier with improved weather and warmer nights recently.
"In my part of the country, we could use some rain right now," Trahan said, however.
Adam Habetz of Calcasieu Parish said he finished drill-planting his crop of 250 acres Monday (April 18). He said that’s 100 acres less than last year, because he didn’t want to spend the money on fuel required to bring one field into planting condition.
"Farmers around me are really just getting started," he said, adding, however, that farmers in Beauregard Parish have completed planting.
His uncle, Ronald Habetz of Beauregard Parish, said all of his 350-acre crop is planted.
"It’s all coming up, even the no-till field," he said.
Acadia Parish farmer Mike Hundley, who farms with his brother Jimbo, said they are planting no more than last year and are looking at between 1,400 and 1,500 acres of rice this year.
Hundley said they started planting March 12 last year, but they waited this year until the first week of April.
"Last year, everybody was in good spirits," Hundley said.
This year’s low prices have put a damper on planting, but Hundley said he’s trying to be optimistic.
"I can remember when oil was $12 a barrel, so who says it can’t go up," Hundley said.
LSU AgCenter rice specialist Dr. Johnny Saichuk said there are some reasons to be hopeful for better prices.
He said farmers can find good news in the fact that worldwide rice stocks are lower than ever.
"On a world supply side, rice is in trouble," Saichuk said.
But the LSU AgCenter expert said he doubts Louisiana will have an overall increase in rice acreage over 2004.
"Everybody I’ve talked to said it isn’t happening," Saichuk said. "At the very best, I think we’re going to remain stable."
Jerry Whatley, LSU AgCenter county agent in Calcasieu Parish, said warm weather in the past few days has helped the late-planted crop.
"We’ve got ideal conditions right now for rice to move, except for the extra cost of having to pump water," he said.
Whatley estimated the area of Calcasieu, Cameron and Beauregard parishes is about 70 percent planted, and he said he expects the total will be less than last year "but not as much as I anticipated."
Eddie Eskew, LSU AgCenter county agent in Jefferson Davis Parish, said farmers have their fingers crossed that things will get better.
"There’s still hope that prices will improve by the end of the year," he said.
Eskew said planting should total 85,000 acres in Jefferson Davis Parish this year, about the same as in 2004.
Howard Cormier, LSU AgCenter county agent in Vermilion Parish, said farmers there are planting about the same amount of rice.
"It appears the acreage will be about the same because farmers need volume to pay off their notes and loans," Cormier said.
Some farmers have all of their rice crop planted, while others are almost finished.
"Hopefully we can get through most of the planting season without a major storm," Cormier said, adding, however, that farmers aren’t enthusiastic this year about planting like they were in 2004.
"Fuel prices have skyrocketed," he said. "Last year there was a little more hope."
In North Louisiana, farmers are starting the growing season in fairly good spirits, said Keith Collins, LSU AgCenter county agent in Richland Parish.
"Most of them are feeling pretty good," he said. "We’ve had two good years in a row, and it had been many years since they had even one good year."
Collins estimated 10 percent-20 percent of the crop in that area is planted. Planting was delayed in North Louisiana because of wet conditions from steady rainfall, he said.
Collins said the threat of Asian soybean rust probably won’t cause much decrease in North Louisiana acreage.
Back to South Louisiana, Keith Fontenot, LSU AgCenter county agent in Evangeline Parish, said farmers who haven’t finished planting are staggering out their crop or that they will plant after draining crawfish ponds.
"There’s a bunch of them who will pull the plug (on crawfish ponds) in the next few days, especially with the low price of crawfish," he said.
Fontenot said the warm weather of mid-April has helped the young rice. "Rice that was planted is moving well," he said, adding that he doesn’t expect rice acreage in Evangeline Parish to decline this year.
"It’s a complete change from what I thought in January," he said. "Right now I’d say the acreage will be the same or go up a tad."
Fontenot said some farmers will continue to plant soybeans in rotation with rice this year, despite the threat of Asian soybean rust.
‘They’re trying to build up some organic matter in the soil," he said.
Rustin Gilder, sales representative for Crowley Grain, said weather has made it difficult for emerging rice plants.
"The wind beat up the rice already planted," he said.
Like the others, Gilder also said he doesn’t see any increase in total acreage.
But more farmers are planting Clearfield, he said, because of its red rice control and convenience.
"The management of Clearfield is a bit easier," he said. "Farmers get more time to take care of other things."
Steve Linscombe at (337) 788-7531 or email@example.com
Johnny Saichuk at (337) 788-7547 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Bruce Schultz at (337) 788-8831 or email@example.com