Some farmers satisfied, others frustrated with 2012 rice crop

Frances Gould  |  9/26/2013 9:47:38 PM

Farmer Josh Newman, of Vermilion Parish, harvests his rice crop near Kaplan just before an approaching storm arrives. Rice farmers in Louisiana had their share of challenges in 2012, but the crop was fairly good overall.

A look back at the 2012 crop will bring satisfaction to most north Louisiana farmers and frustration to many in the southern part of the state.

Blast disease was a factor for many, reducing yields to extreme lows.

"We had the most severe blast pressure I’ve ever seen in my career, and that’s 30-plus years," said Dr. Steve Linscombe, director of the LSU AgCenter’s Rice Research Station.

Linscombe said the unusually warm weather, with no killing freezes, allowed an abundance of blast inoculum to survive.

"We identified varieties with higher levels of susceptibility, and others with more resistance, than we were expecting," he said.

Linscombe said he was surprised that CL151 proved to be highly susceptible.

High blast pressure also affected milling quality, he said.

Fungicides for blast are not 100 percent effective and must be applied earlier than usual to protect heads prior to emergence.

Linscombe said the mild spring was followed by hot weather, but nighttime temperatures were moderate and not excessively hot in south Louisiana.

Blast defining factor

Ag consultant B.D. Fontenot of Mamou said blast was the defining factor of the 2012 crop.

"I have never seen it that bad, and I’ve been in this business since 1980," Fontenot said.

He said the widespread use of CL151 demonstrated the problem of heavily relying on one variety. "I talked to three producers who are planning to plant all CL111 next year," Fontenot said.

The consultant said he is urging farmers to consider CL152 instead because of its good straw strength, stable milling and a good disease package.

Fontenot said some farmers also had a problem with grasses, but the farmers were not willing to spend the time and money to control them.

In Evangeline Parish, LSU AgCenter county agent Keith Fontenot said farmers there had a good year overall.

"We probably had one of the higher production years we’ve ever had," he said, adding a few farmers had problems with blast but that most were not affected.

The county agent said the parish yield was in the neighborhood of 45 barrels (73 hundredweight or 162 bushels). Some farmers with blast problems could only manage yields of less than 30 barrels (49 hundredweight or 108 bushels), while others reported yields exceeding 50 barrels.

Fontenot said some varieties, such as CL111, showed surprising blast resistance, but the most popular variety, CL151, had a weak defense against blast. "Three years ago we cussed CL111, but this year it was the shining star," the Evangeline Parish county agent said.

The county agent also said several farmers in Evangeline Parish had success growing the Milagro variety under contract for the Mexican market.

Insects and weeds were not major problems, Fontenot said, because farmers have adopted seed treatments and recommended herbicide applications. Birds and hogs, however, were major pests that plagued many farmers, he said.

Fontenot is expecting reduced rice acreage in 2013. "The big kicker is what’s going to happen with the farm bill," he said, explaining that without a dramatic rice price increase, it’s likely many farmers will opt to plant more soybeans.

Clearfield acreage increased

LSU AgCenter rice specialist Dr. Johnny Saichuk said the state’s Clearfield acreage increased in 2012 and that hybrids showed a slight decline in acreage. Yields ranged from excellent to poor, he said.

"Where ever there was blast, yields were way down," Saichuk said, adding that late-planted CL151 had significant blast problems.

A wet March delayed planting for many farmers who had planned to drill seed, Saichuk said. In addition, the mild winter probably allowed blast to maintain its potency, and it overwintered on weeds that faced no killing freezes, he said.

"If you can untangle that gumbo, you can back up and write that recipe,"

Saichuk said. Saichuk said weed problems statewide were minor, however. "We had extremely clean fields everywhere," he said.

Uncertainty for 2013

The LSU AgCenter rice specialist said Louisiana farmers are dealing with uncertainty in their planning for the 2013 crop. "Right now the question I’m getting is: ‘What variety are we going to plant next year?’," he said.

Saichuk said the long-grain conventional variety Mermentau is a good choice, as is Catahoula because of good grain quality.

The amount of rice to be planted in 2013 is still up in the air, Saichuk said. "If rice prices stay the same and soybeans stay up, we’re going to see a serious decline in rice," he predicted.

Vince Deshotel, LSU AgCenter county agent in St. Landry Parish, said yields were on both ends of the spectrum. He also said the wide variation can be attributed to disease.

Deshotel said rice acreage is likely to remain the same, around 25,000 acres for St. Landry. "I don’t see any real big swings," he said.

Farmer Phillip Lamartiniere of Avoyelles Parish said his overall yield was 48 barrels (78 hundredweight or 173 bushels), and he said most farmers did well in the central Louisiana area.

"I’d say for the most part, it was an above-average crop," Lamartiniere said, explaining he thought the area’s crop had only minimal problems from insects and diseases.

Lamartiniere said he doesn’t expect rice acreage to increase next year, and he’s not planning on adding to his. He said some farmers will choose to plant more corn, soybeans or grain sorghum. "We might even lose some acres," Lamartiniere added, saying he was wary of diesel prices next year and that he was "not hearing any good news on fertilizer."

Erratic crop for some areas

Barrett Courville, LSU AgCenter county agent in Acadia and Jefferson Davis parishes, said erratic would be the best word to describe the 2012 crop.

"It was pretty much hit-and-miss across both parishes," Courville said, estimating the Acadia Parish average yield at 42 barrels (68 hundredweight or 151 bushels) and the Jefferson Davis average around 39 barrels (63 hundredweight or 140 bushels). "Jefferson Davis farmers were hit worse by disease."

Some fields that had severe blast only yielded 12 to 15 barrels (19-24 hundredweight or 43-54 bushels).

Variety choice dilemma

"People don’t know what variety to pick for next year," Courville said. But he also said a cold winter could provide a welcome knockout punch to blast.

Paul Zaunbrecher, who farms with his brothers in Acadia Parish, said fields used for crawfish will be planted with rice, but deciding which varieties to use is a dilemma.

"I don’t think we can afford to plant too much CL151," Zaunbrecher said.

Zaunbrecher said they have drastically reduced red rice in their fields – giving them the option of water-seeding conventional varieties such as Mermentau and Cheniere. He also said Jasmine appeared to have good blast resistance and it yielded well, as much as 47 barrels (76 hundredweight or 169 bushels).

Stuart Gauthier, previously LSU AgCenter county agent in Vermilion Parish but now assigned to St. Martin Parish, said Vermilion Parish farmers did well with CL111. Conventional varieties and hybrids also had good yields, he said.

Gauthier said 20-barrel yields (36 hundredweight or 72 bushels) were not unusual in fields hit by blast, however.

The LSU AgCenter county agent said heavy rains flushed salt water from marshes. But he also said, "The ducks did more harm than salt water this year."

Gauthier said it’s possible Vermilion Parish rice acreage could slip again. In 2012, total acreage was 46,000, down by 5,000 from 2011.

Farmer Durel Romaine in Vermilion Parish said yields started high with CL111, but the last field, 120 acres planted in CL151, yielded 23 to 27 barrels (37-44 hundredweight or 83-97 bushels). "That’s the worst rice I’ve ever had, but the early crop made up for it,"

Romaine said, explaining his initial harvest produced yields in the upper 40-barrel range. Romaine said he is considering an increase in soybean acreage. "If I increase my acres, it will not be with rice," he said.

North Louisiana yield reports upbeat

In north Louisiana, where the disease problem was not as severe and insects didn’t pose major issues, yield reports were more upbeat.

Keith Collins, LSU AgCenter county agent in Richland Parish, said total rice acreage there was about 5,000 and represented farmers who are committed to planting rice every year.

Although Hurricane Isaac lodged some rice, it was recoverable, Collins said, estimating Richland’s average yields at 150-160 bushels (68-72 hundredweight or 42-44 barrels).

Collins said farmers who plant according to the commodity market will look at soybeans and corn. "They are going to plant rice," he said. "It’s just a matter of how much."

Rice farmer Damian Bollich, of Jones, agreed, saying he expects rice acreage in north Louisiana to decline in 2013 unless rice prices increase.

"Everybody is planting more corn and soybeans," he said.

Bollich said yields were in the 170-200 bushel range (77-90 hundredweight or 42-56 barrels). "Some yields were good, and some were average," he said, adding that milling quality was off, probably because of above-average heat.

Positives for industry

As far as infrastructure off the field, the state’s rice industry had two positive developments. One of those came in north Louisiana, and the other in the southern part of the state.

A new mill opened by the Kennedy family near Bastrop will give north Louisiana farmers another outlet for their crop. And, in south Louisiana, a rail loading facility at Lacassine was completed to load bulk rice directly onto rail cars.

(This article was published in the 2013 Louisiana Rice Research Board Annual Report.)

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Please click on the links above to go to the Rice Research Board Reports home page, to go to the 2012 report, and to go to the PDF version of the 2013 report.

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