2011 crop better than average for many producers; overall acreage expected to remain flat for 2012

Frances Gould, Schultz, Bruce  |  10/7/2013 7:49:54 PM

Mature rice awaits harvest in a field at the LSU AgCenter’s Rice Research Station.

Photo By: LSU AgCenter

The 2011 rice crop in Louisiana was better than average for many producers, but the year included problems with salt water, insects and milling quality for others.

Despite those issues, however, farmers were thankful they didn’t have to deal with severe tropical weather.

Dr. Steve Linscombe, director of the LSU AgCenter’s Rice Research Station, said yields were decent for the 2011 Louisiana rice crop.

"We had very good conditions for early planted rice," Linscombe said.

Cool weather in April slowed the growth, but the hot summer made up for it. "Historically, with a dry summer we have high yields," Linscombe said.

A lack of rain meant clear skies and more radiant energy for plant growth, Linscombe said.

"We overall had less chalk this year than in the 2010 crop, probably because we had lower nighttime temperatures in June," he said.

Some yields were hurt because farmers weren’t able to keep fields flooded adequately, Linscombe said, explaining that most modern varieties were developed for well-flooded ground.

Linscombe said salt water caused some farmers to abandon fields in Jefferson Davis and Vermilion parishes. A few fields were flooded late in the season with water with high salt concentrations, however, and yields were surprisingly good, he said.

Dr. Johnny Saichuk, LSU AgCenter rice specialist, said he doesn’t expect the state’s total rice acreage to increase from the 412,373 acres grown in 2011.

"From what I’ve been hearing, people say it’s not going to change," Saichuk said.

The rice specialist said bacterial panicle blight caused the worst disease damage in the 2011 crop. He also said salt water in Vermilion and Jefferson Davis parishes could affect acreage totals and that rainfall is needed to flush out the salt, both in fields and in surface water systems.

"A dry winter will be bad for everybody," Saichuk stressed.

Stuart Gauthier, LSU AgCenter county agent in Vermilion Parish, said the 2011 total acreage there of 51,441 was a decline of almost 10,000 acres from the previous year. Salt water and continued high soybean prices could cause the total to drop again, he said.

The Leman-Bowman locks on the west side of Vermilion Bay are being repaired and that will allow a large flow of salt water into the marsh, he said. "If we go into the spring and the canals are salty, that’s going to have a big effect," Gauthier said.

Vermilion Parish yields were average to below average, Gauthier said, with 34-36 barrels (5,508-5,832 pounds or 122-130 bushels) per acre.

Gauthier said second crop yields were in the range of 8-10 barrels an acre (1,300-1,620 pounds or 29-36 bushels). Disease, dry weather and stinkbugs have combined for a challenging ratoon crop, he said.

Barrett Courville, LSU AgCenter county agent in Acadia and Jefferson Davis parishes, said 2011 will go down as a good year for rice production in those areas.

"It was one of our better years," Courville said.

He estimated the Jefferson Davis average yield at 43-44 barrels (6,966- 7,128 pounds or 155-158 bushels) per acre and the Acadia average at 45-46 barrels (7,290-7,452 pounds or 162-166 bushels). Second crop yields were ranging from a low of 8 to a high of 20 barrels (1,296-3,240 pounds, or 29-72 bushels) per acre, he said.

Courville said the Jefferson Davis average was probably lowered by the effects of salt in irrigation water in the southern area of the parish, and that factor could affect the acreage planted in 2012. Jefferson Davis Parish was the leading rice-producing parish in the state in 2011 with 79,510 acres in production. Acadia was second with 76,421.

Whether those figures change next year depends on how many soybean acres are planted, Courville said, although many area farmers who planted soybeans in 2011 had a bad crop.

Disease was not a big problem, except for sheath blight in the Mowata area, Courville said. Insect pressure early in the season was heavy in Jefferson Davis Parish – with chinch bugs, bill bugs and sugarcane borers, he said.

Fred Zaunbrecher, who farms with his brothers in Acadia Parish, said their average was approximately 46 barrels (7,452 pounds or 166 bushels) an acre.

"We had a better-than-average crop, but not as good as last year when it was closer to 50 barrels," Zaunbrecher said.

Milling was average, and Zaunbrecher said their second crop was hurt by cold weather in mid- October that stunted the plants’ growth. But he said the farm’s rice acreage will stay the same next year – in the neighborhood of 2,000-2,200 acres.

Keith Fontenot, LSU AgCenter county agent in Evangeline Parish, said farmers had yields in the mid-40 barrel range per acre.

Richard Fontenot of Ville Platte said Evangeline Parish growers had more second crop rice in 2011 than he remembers, and Keith Fontenot estimated as much as a third of the parish’s 40,849 acres will be in second crop.

But Jeffery Sylvester of Whiteville said he is cutting back his acreage to grow more soybeans.

Vince Deshotel, LSU AgCenter county agent in St. Landry Parish, also said rice acreage there could decline again in 2012. The parish total was 21,810 acres in 2011.

"It was down 5,000 acres from 2010 because of the cost of fertilizer and the volatility of the market," Deshotel said. "It’s probably going to stabilize at 20,000 acres."

The county agent said growers in the eastern part of St. Landry Parish have the options of growing corn and soybeans and that they are likely to switch.

Deshotel estimated the yield average in barrels per acre somewhere in the mid- to upper-30s, although some producers in the Eunice area had averages in the 40-50 barrel range (6,480-8,100 pounds or 144-180 bushels).

"It was basically an average year," Deshotel said.

Rob Ferguson, LSU AgCenter county agent in Avoyelles Parish, said farmers in the area were pleased, and he estimated the average yield for producers in the parish at 47 barrels (7,614 pounds or 169 bushels) per acre.

"It was an expensive crop, but yields overall were above average," Ferguson said, explaining that during the last part of the harvest, storms knocked down several thousand acres of rice, which slowed combines.

Ferguson is optimistic for rice next year in Avoyelles Parish, however, where 12,746 acres were grown in 2011. "I have a feeling acreage will be up some next year," he said.

In north Louisiana, there also were good reports.

LSU AgCenter county agent Donna Lee in East Carroll Parish said the crop there was above average. "Overall it was pretty decent," she said.

Disease pressure was light, but stinkbugs caused many farmers to spray as often as three times, Lee said.

She expects rice acreage will go to corn, soybeans and cotton next year because of higher prices.

R.L. Frazier, LSU AgCenter county agent in Madison Parish, said the crop there was average to above average.

He said disease and insects were not big problems there. "It went fairly uneventful this year," Frazier said.

Keith Collins, LSU AgCenter county agent in Richland Parish, said the parish’s overall yield was in the range of 44-47 barrels (6,300-7,050 pounds or 140 to 150 bushels) an acre, exceeding the parish’s five-year average.

"In the end, our yields were good, and prices made a rebound," Collins said.

Richland Parish growers planted 5,694 acres of rice in 2011, and unless prices make a big jump, Collins doesn’t expect the parish’s acreage total to increase for 2012. But he said a big development, such as the possible purchase of U.S. rice by China, could increase prices and boost the amount of rice planted in the area.

Ed Greer, a Richland Parish farmer, said his crop started out to be exceptional, cutting more than 56 barrels (9,000 pounds or 200 bushels) an acre, but it dropped as the harvest progressed. He estimated his overall crop average at 42 barrels (6,750 pounds or 150 bushels) an acre.

"Overall, we had a good crop this year," Greer said, adding, "If the later planted rice hadn’t fallen off, we would have had an outstanding crop. Our milling yields are much better than what they were last year. It’s something we can live with."

Greer grew 1,400 acres of rice in 2011 and said he doesn’t anticipate increasing his rice acreage in 2012. He said most rice farmers in the area probably are following that same plan. "I don’t see a big change in rice acres. I think our numbers will be pretty flat," Greer said.

(This article was published in the 2012 Louisiana Rice Research Board Annual Report.)

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