Two combines are used to harvest rice in Acadia Parish Farmers in south Louisiana reported a drop in their first crop but many of them had an excellent second crop yield Photo by Bruce Schultz

Two combines are used to harvest rice in Acadia Parish. Farmers in south Louisiana reported a drop in their first crop, but many of them had an excellent second crop yield. (Photo by Bruce Schultz)

2015 rice crop challenged many Louisiana farmers

The 2015 Louisiana rice crop was a challenge for many farmers, with excessive rainfall in the south and hot temperatures in the north. That was followed by excellent weather for harvest. While the first crop harvest was a decline from the exceptional harvests of the past two years, the second crop in south Louisiana was exceptionally good, according to LSU AgCenter experts.

“Most everybody I’ve talked to is pleased with the second crop yields,” said Steve Linscombe, director of the LSU AgCenter H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station, Crowley, La. “Numerous producers say this is by far their best second crop from the standpoint of yield, and the quality is very good, too.”

Linscombe said the good ratoon crop yields will take some of the sting out of low prices and the lower first crop yield.

Linscombe estimated the 2015 first crop harvest was down 10 to 15 percent from last year. But the per acre average for the second crop would probably fall in the low to mid-20 barrel range on a green weight basis, although he heard of many who cut more than 30 barrels an acre.

“I even heard of a few 40-plus in the second crop,” he said.

He said the north Louisiana rice crop endured unusually hot, dry weather that could affect grain quality. The crop year in south Louisiana started with heavy rainfall that interfered with planting and spraying.

“This has been one of the most difficult years for rice producers that they’ve seen in a long time,” said Dustin Harrell, LSU AgCenter rice specialist, who estimated the first crop yield decrease at 10 percent.

Harrell and Linscombe said heavy rainfall from March until May, and frequent overcast skies, were major reasons for lower yields. More clouds mean less sunshine for photosynthesis, and that resulted in fewer and smaller grains per panicle, Linscombe said.

Harrell said the excessive spring rainfall complicated the season because fertilizer applications were delayed. In addition, early in the season, small rice plants were submerged for a considerably long time, he said.

Linscombe said disease was a factor for the first crop. Blast disease, while not as severe as 2012, was an issue in some fields and caused significant yield reductions, he said. “We did have some fields that had a significant issue with Cercospora.”

Bacterial panicle blight also showed up, he said. But sheath blight was not as bad as usual probably because fungicides worked well against that disease.

“Quality seems to be OK, especially on our earlier planted rice,” Linscombe said. But later planted rice that matured during the hotter temperatures showed higher levels of chalk and lower head rice and total milled yields in some cases, he said.

Don Groth, LSU AgCenter plant pathologist, said early season blast appeared in the 2015 crop, but it didn’t develop into the devastating form, rotten neck blast, in most fields probably because farmers sprayed their affected crops early enough with fungicide.

“They had the warning early enough, unlike in 2012,” Groth said.

Hot weather inhibited widespread development of sheath blight and blast, he said.

Even though planting was delayed by weather, the first crop harvest went smoothly with few rain interruptions, and dry weather prevented farm equipment from rutting the fields, Linscombe said. That meant a good start for farmers growing a second crop.

Linscombe said he is noticing more farmers manipulating rice stubble, either by rolling or mowing the remaining stalks, to increase ratoon crop yields, as shown in studies conducted by Harrell.

Keith Fontenot, who retired as LSU AgCenter county agent in Evangeline Parish, said rice farmers there reported mixed results, with yields from 40 to 55 barrels per acre (131 to 180 bushels or 59 to 81 hundredweight.). He said one farmer only managed 26 barrels (85 bushels or 38 hundredweight) in a field suddenly hit with rotten neck blast.

Ratoon rice

Paul Zaunbrecher, who farms with his two brothers in Acadia Parish, said the first field of ratoon rice they cut averaged 25 barrels per acre (82 bushels, or 37 hundredweight) and he had heard of some farmers cutting in excess of 30 barrels. “It could be the best year ever for second crop.”

Zaunbrecher said the second crop results seemed to verify the notion that a rice crop that doesn’t perform well in the first crop will compensate in the ratoon.

He said the challenge in the first part of the growing season reduced their yield to the low 40s per acre (130 bushels or 59 hundredweight), compared to 52 barrels (170 bushels or 77 hundredweight) last year.

Farmer Darrell Hoffpauir of Acadia Parish said his second crop yield averaged 27 barrels an acre, and he had some fields with 34 barrels, which made up for a lower first crop yield.

“My first crop was off by 6 or 7 barrels an acre,” Hoffpauir said.

He grew a second crop on 90 percent of his first crop acreage and rolled all of the stubble, resulting in 21,000 barrels for the second crop, half as much as the first crop yield.

Paul Johnson, who farms near Hayes in Cameron Parish, said the 2015 second crop started with promising results, yielding 20 barrels per acre (66 bushels or 30 hundredweight) from Jazzman II. “We were cutting 28 barrels (92 bushels or 41 hundredweight) in the first crop. Everybody I talk to says second crop yields are up.”

He said his first crop yields were down by 15 percent from 2014. “The rice looked good, but it just didn’t yield.”

Johnson is pleased with the quality. “It’s as good as if not better than the first crop.”

Barrett Courville, who retired as LSU AgCenter county agent in Acadia and Jefferson Davis parishes, said first crop yields were off by about 4 barrels an acre (13 bushels or 6 hundredweight) from last year. He said farmers grew a second crop on at least half of the rice acreage in Acadia and Jefferson Davis parishes.

Alan Lawson, Crowley rice farmer and president of the Acadia Parish Rice Growers Association, said his yields early in the harvest started around 40 barrels an acre (131 bushels or 59 hundredweight) but improved as he went to more fields, up to the low-50 barrels (164 bushels or 74 hundredweight)

“Yields are not as good as they have been in the past few years, but they’re better than some I’ve heard in surrounding parishes,” Lawson said.

Andrew Granger, LSU AgCenter county agent in Vermilion Parish, said yields were down from last year also.

“We’re 4 to 5 barrels short (13 to 16 bushels or 6 to 7 hundredweight),” he said. “We’re not going to average 44 barrels (144 bushels or 65 hundredweight) like we did last year.”

In north Louisiana, Keith Collins, county agent in Richland Parish, said this year’s crop was respectable, but not as good as last year.

“It’s off a tad, but not much,” Collins said. “Some farmers have as good a crop as last year, and some are off by 5 to 10 percent.”

He said he doesn’t expect farmers to increase rice acreage next year in north Louisiana. “Right now, they’re in survival mode, and I don’t see an increase until we have higher prices.”

Farmer Jim Lingo of Oak Grove said his crop varied from fair to good, depending on when the weather would allow him to plant. Earlier planted rice had the best yields, he said.

But, he said, his yields were better than last year’s because he was able to plant earlier.

Next year, he said, rice acreage in north Louisiana will drop. “The rice acres are going to be down unless we have a price swing.”

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