Louisiana rice farmers report good crop

Louisiana rice farmers are reporting a fair-to-good crop for the 2007 season, with most fields already harvested in south Louisiana and more than half cut in the northern parishes by mid-September.

Overall, the harvest has been good, and milling quality has been stable, according to Steve Linscombe, director of the LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station in Crowley, La.

“We did not have a lot of issues like last year’s disease problems,” Linscombe said.

Yields have been consistent throughout the harvest this year, he said, unlike previous years. “We didn’t see a substantial yield reduction in later-planted rice.”

Johnny Saichuk, LSU AgCenter rice specialist, said yields have been excellent. He estimated a statewide average yield could be 6,000 pounds per acre, which would amount to more than 130 bushels, or 37 barrels, per acre. This is about 150 pounds below the record of 6,157 pounds per acre set in 2003.

“Yields are better this year than we first thought,” he said.

Rain at the wrong time and a cold spell in April caused concern about this year’s crop earlier in the season, Saichuk said. But farmers were proactive against disease that hurt the 2006 crop by using fungicides diligently.

Farmer Tim Wild of Jefferson Davis Parish said this has been his family farm’s best rice harvest, averaging 48 barrels an acre before drying for long grain rice and 42 barrels for medium grain rice.

But the weather has not been as exceptional for the Wilds. Frequent rains have often shut down their harvest, which started July 24.

“One of my hired men said we had worked 40 days straight,” Wild said. “It’s been wet and nasty.”

On one afternoon in early September, the Wilds were operating two combines in a muddy 200-acre field of medium grain rice. Storm clouds were swirling overhead, and eventually the rains ran them out of the field again.

Usually, Wild said, they can harvest 90 acres a day, but the muddy fields have cut that amount in half.

Their second crop will be ready in about three weeks, he said in mid-September, just before it will be time to harvest soybeans, then plant wheat.

Hurricane Humberto further complicated matters, with at least half the field still not cut. “The road is under water, and the bayou is still coming up,” he said the day after the storm.

The Zaunbrecher brothers of Acadia Parish completed harvest about a week before Hurricane Humberto hit. Fred Zaunbrecher said their harvest averaged 43 barrels an acre before drying, “which was good, taking into consideration the yields fell off at the end.”

Zaunbrecher said rains in early September slowed their progress. “It took a week to get 120 acres cut,” he said.

Zaunbrecher said half of their 2,100 acres will be second cropped. So far, he said, “It’s the best I’ve seen in several years.”

Ron Levy, LSU AgCenter county agent in Acadia Parish, said yields in the parish have been good, many above average, but not the best ever. “All the producers did a good job of applying fungicides at the right time at the right rate,” Levy said.

Levy said harvest was slowed considerably by steady rainfall. “It took twice as long,” he said. The muddy fields were rutted by the harvest equipment, which lowers second crop yields because of reduced plant population, he said.

Levy said the overall harvest including second crop could result in 40 barrels an acre after the grain is dried.

Acreage dropped in Acadia Parish by 15 percent to 64,694 acres, he said. Levy said the decrease could continue next year unless prices improve.

Acadia’s decline made Jefferson Davis Parish the state’s largest rice-growing parish with 65,390 acres. Eddie Eskew, LSU AgCenter county agent in Jefferson Davis Parish, said yields were good.

“We’re going to be in the top two or three years,” he said. ”The yields were much better than people thought.” He estimated the yields at 37 to 42 barrels per acre.

Eskew said the 2006 crop could have been as good this year’s had it not been for late-season diseases.

Rainy weather complicated the harvest, he said, and many fields were rutted by tractors and combines. And that will have an impact on the second crop.

Keith Fontenot, LSU AgCenter county agent in Evangeline Parish, said most farmers there reported good harvest totals. “Yields have held up fairly well at the end of the season, remaining in the low 40s (barrels per acre) to the high 30s compared to the early-season yield that was in the upper to mid-40s,” he said.

Most of the rice in the parish had been harvested prior to Hurricane Humberto.

Since most farmers in Evangeline Parish don’t grow a second crop, Fontenot said, farmers are looking to next year. “A lot of people right now are watching the markets,” he said.

Howard Cormier, LSU AgCenter county agent in Vermilion Parish, said the harvest “went well up until the end with the rain.” He estimated the average yield around 40 barrels per acre, and he said about a third of the acreage will be harvested for a second crop.

This year, Vermilion Parish rice farming increased to 48,600 acres, up 15,000 acres from 2006.

Donna Lee, LSU AgCenter county agent in East Carroll Parish, said yields have varied from poor to good. “It’s really been a quite year from a pest standpoint,” she said.

Keith Collins, LSU AgCenter county agent in Richland Parish, said the northeast Louisiana harvest was at least halfway complete by mid-September. But Humberto has caused a delay, he said.

“Yield-wise, it’s probably going to be an average year,” he said. Collins said the yields would have been better if not for a three-week rainy spell in July. “That had an impact on pollination, as well as disease development,” he said.

Farmer John Owen of Richland Parish said he had only 30 percent of his crop harvested before Hurricane Humberto. Before that, he said, regular rains had already delayed his harvest progress.

“Fifty percent chance of rain for 10 days straight in September is pretty tough,” he said.

Owen said he will convert his combines from wheels to tracks to avoid rutting his fields, and that will slow him down more. “I’ll go from cutting seven trucks a day to four trucks a day,” he said.

He said his yields have been good, in the range of 7,500 to 8,000 pounds, or about 165 to 180 bushels, per acre.

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