2016: A Very Difficult Year for Louisiana Rice Production

Steven Linscombe  |  11/22/2016 3:27:40 PM

2016: A Very Difficult Year for Louisiana Rice Production

Steve Linscombe

LSU AgCenter

H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station/Southwest Region

This is being written on Delta flight 559 from Atlanta to San Juan on November 1. I am heading to the Puerto Rico winter nursery to evaluate our first nursery, which was planted on July 29, and spray herbicides on Clearfield and Provisia breeding populations in our second nursery, planted on October 13. Many southwest Louisiana rice producers are currently wrapping up harvest of their rice second crop. To put it bluntly, this is a rice production year that most Louisiana rice producers are ready to put behind them. To say that this has been a difficult year in Louisiana rice production would be an understatement at best.

In southwest Louisiana, conditions allowed for a large amount of rice to be planted very early. In fact, many producers began planting in late February, and by March 10 we estimate that 30 percent of the region’s rice crop was planted. Then rains moved in, and the second half of March and early April saw extended rainfall that delayed dry planting for an extended period of time. Many producers opted to water-seed during this wet period, while others waited for fields to dry to allow for dry seeding. In addition, these wet conditions hindered early season herbicide and fertilizer applications. During this rainfall period northeast Louisiana was also adversely affected. Some rice production areas in that region received more than 20 inches of rain in a short period of time, and many rice fields stayed flooded for weeks, which delayed rice seeding there as well.

Growing conditions in May, June and July were marked by higher than normal rainfall, which also led to excessive cloud cover. Neither of these conditions is conducive to high yields in rice. As we began harvesting in mid-July, the first yields were average at best, similar to 2015 yields but off the record-setting yields seen in 2014.

The defining moment for southwest Louisiana rice production occurred during a 36-hour period on August 12-13, when most of the region received between 18 and 25 inches of rainfall. It was estimated that in the region over 30 percent of the rice crop had not been harvested when the flood occurred. All of the unharvested rice was negatively affected—some fields much worse than others. Most of the unharvested fields were flooded, and under the most adverse conditions, the rice lodged prior to flooding. In some cases the water receded fairly quickly; in others the fields remained flooded for an extended period of time. Rice yield and quality deteriorate rapidly under these conditions, which is certainly what was observed. Rice that is ripe for harvest will rapidly begin to germinate, which causes yield and quality reductions. To add misery, we had almost daily rainfall for two weeks after the flood event, which further delayed floodwater receding and harvest and exasperated yield and quality reductions. These conditions even led to sprouting in some standing, unflooded rice. While most acres were eventually harvested, some producers left significant acres of unsalvageable rice in the field.

Dr. Kurt Guidry and other AgCenter economists worked with extension agents to estimate the impact of the flood event on all agricultural enterprises in south Louisiana. Their estimates indicated a negative effect of more than $68 million in the Louisiana rice industry, which included $60 million in reduced farm receipts and $8 million in increased production costs.

When north Louisiana rice harvest began, we discovered that yields and quality in that region were down as well—probably caused by delayed planting and an extended period of high temperatures during a critical time in the growing season.

The ratoon (second) crop in southwest Louisiana was adversely affected as well. Some areas of second crop were actually lost where floodwaters remained for an extended period of time, and the rice stubble was actually dead by the time the waters receded. Even where floodwaters got off the fields quickly, there were reduced yields, especially when compared to the 2015 recording-setting second crop production.

Also, the primary rotational row crop in southwest Louisiana is soybeans, which suffered yield and quality loss from excessive rainfall as well. The other important agricultural endeavor in the region is crawfish production. The jury is still out on what impact the flood event will have on crawfish production during the upcoming winter and spring; some fields may be very negatively affected and others much less so. We do know that extended periods of water on recently harvested rice fields under hot conditions can cause a rapid breakdown of rice vegetative material, which can quickly lower dissolved oxygen content in these fields. Low oxygen levels are probably the most detrimental condition in crawfish production and can cause rapid and high rates of crawfish mortality. Most producers probably will not know the impact on crawfish production until traps are put in the field and crawfish harvest begins.

The other negative factor in all of this is that because of world rice market conditions, even with the reduced crop in Louisiana, rice prices are very low. All of the factors have made this rice season in Louisiana the perfect storm and a year most of us in the industry want to put behind us.

This project was partially supported by USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Permission granted November 15, 2016 by B. Leonards (LA Farm & Ranch) to republish article on www.lsuagcenter.com.

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Unharvested sprouted rice after the August flood.

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