To get ready for the 2009 crop, many Louisiana rice farmers have been in the classroom learning from LSU AgCenter scientists. Rice schools have been held in Welsh, Ville Platte, Kaplan, Crowley, Bunkie, Rayville and Ferriday.
Rice prices were driven up partially by speculators last year, and then prices declined after those investors got out of the commodities market, said Gene Johnson, an LSU AgCenter economist.
Increased rice production has prevented prices from rising again.
Johnson recommended farmers with rice in their bins sell if prices get to $25 to $28 a barrel — roughly $15 to $17 per hundred pounds. “I don't think we're going to get back to $30 rice this year.”
Kurt Guidry, LSU AgCenter economist, said soybean and corn prices could improve.
More rice acreage will be planted in Clearfield varieties this year, but the supply could be limited, said Steve Linscombe, director of the LSU AgCenter's Rice Research Station at Crowley. He urged farmers to start booking seed soon.
Linscombe said the new variety CL151 has good potential with yields as good as the best conventional varieties. The variety can develop chalking but no worse than other popular varieties, such as Cocodrie.
A new medium-grain variety, Neptune, has better second-crop potential than other medium-grain varieties.
Xueyan Sha, LSU AgCenter rice breeder, said the new Jazzman variety, aimed at competing with Thai Jasmine rice, required 13 years to develop. Its yield is comparable to Cypress. “This is a big breakthrough for us.”
Sha said a tenth of the rice consumed in the United States is from Thailand.
The LSU AgCenter is developing a strategy to combat the Mexican rice borer, said Natalie Hummel, an LSU AgCenter entomologist. She said the pest was found Dec. 15 in a pheromone trap near Vinton, La.
It was the first time the insect was found in Louisiana and it is expected to affect only farmers in the western part of the state this year because its migration is slow. The insect's larva is a severe pest — worse than other stem borers — and it is a devastating pest to sugarcane.
Hummel said she is meeting with representatives of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry to decide how best to deal with this new pest. She said treatment requires spraying chemicals before the larva enters a plant's stem.
Eric Webster, an LSU AgCenter weed scientist, urged farmers to follow Clearfield guidelines to ensure the technology's effectiveness against red rice is maintained and to prevent outcrossing of red rice.
“This is the only thing we have,” he said of the technology to combat the problem of red rice in conventional rice fields. “We don't have anything to fall back on.”
Webster urged farmers to rule out a second crop on Clearfield acreage where red rice was not controlled.
Don Groth, LSU AgCenter pathologist, told farmers in Crowley and Kaplan that sheath blight remains the preeminent disease facing rice farmers. Groth said fungicides must be applied within a specific time to be effective and prevent yield losses. “After this, you start losing activity and you start losing yields.”
Fungicides only stop disease from developing and cannot restore lost plant tissue.
Groth said rice breeders have been working to develop varieties with inherent disease resistance. “We are making some progress on this. Our newer varieties seem to be less susceptible, and they are more tolerant of disease.”
The variety CL151 has improved disease resistance compared to previous Clearfield varieties, and it's possible that it will not require treatment for sheath blight.
Groth said draining a field for rice water weevil control can result in other diseases, such as blast. The new Dermacor seed treatment for drill-seeded rice could indirectly result in fewer blast problems.
Groth said he is encouraged by several new experimental fungicides.
Farmers should consider using Agrotain to prevent degradation of nitrogen fertilizer, especially on fields that require several days to flood, said Dustin Harrell, LSU AgCenter agronomist.
Harrell also said different soils react differently to saltwater contamination from hurricane storm surge. Farmers should avoid deep tillage of salt-contaminated soil. That process would move salt deeper into the soil. Harrell also recommended against adding potash to salt-laden soil.
Farmers with salty fields should hold rainwater for a few days before releasing it from the field, suggested Harrell. Also, working the soil in water can cause salt to dissolve more quickly.
At the Crowley session, state Rep. Dan “Blade” Morrish of Jennings, La., told farmers that state government budget cuts will mean higher education and health care will be targeted for reductions.
“I give you my pledge we will continue to make sure the LSU AgCenter is treated fairly,” Morrish said.