South Louisiana rice farmers have had excellent weather to get the 2015 crop out of the field, but the yield is a decline from the two exceptional harvests of the past two years, according to LSU AgCenter experts.
“This is not going to be one of the harvests for the record books,” said Steve Linscombe, director of the LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station.
Linscombe estimated this year’s harvest in south Louisiana is down 10-15 percent from last year.
The north Louisiana rice crop has endured unusually hot, dry weather that could affect grain quality, he said. Harvest in that part of the state is just starting.
“This has been one of the most difficult years for rice producers that they’ve seen in a long time,” said AgCenter rice specialist Dustin Harrell.
Both listed heavy rainfall from March until May, and frequent overcast skies as major reasons for lower yields.
More clouds mean less sunshine for photosynthesis, and that resulted in fewer and smaller grains per plant, Linscombe said.
Harrell said the excess rainfall complicated the season because farmers were not able to make fertilizer applications on time. In addition, small rice plants were submerged for a considerably long time, he said.
Disease was a factor in the harvest, Linscombe said. Blast disease was comparable to the 2012 levels, and it resulted in lower yields. “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 will probably have quality problems, especially with chalk, he said.
Even though planting was delayed by weather, harvest went smoothly with few rain interruptions, and dry weather prevented farm equipment from rutting the fields, Linscombe said. That means a good start for farmers growing a second crop of rice.
Linscombe said he is noticing more farmers manipulating rice stubble, either by rolling or mowing the remaining stalks, to increase second-crop yields as shown in studies conducted by Harrell.
AgCenter county agent Keith Fontenot said Evangeline Parish rice farmers were reporting mixed results, with yields from 40 to 55 barrels. He said one farmer only managed 26 barrels in a field suddenly hit with rotten neck blast disease.
A barrel of rice weighs 162 pounds.
Fontenot said he’s seeing many farmers preparing fields for a second crop. “I’m amazed at the amount of work I see happening,” he said. “Everybody looks like they’re going to have a second crop.”
AgCenter county agent Barrett Courville said yields are off by about four barrels an acre from last year. But he said the second crop looks promising.
“Most of the stubble is coming back pretty good,” Courville said. “I bet we’ll have 50 percent in second crop, at least.”
The LSU AgCenter’s recommended cutoff date for growing a second crop is Aug. 15.
Courville estimated that 70 percent of the crop has been harvested 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 but improved as he went to more fields, moving up to the low-50 barrels per acre.
“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, AgCenter county agent in Vermilion Parish, said 80-85 percent of the crop has been harvested there, and yields also are down from last year.
“We’re four to five barrels short,” he said. “We’re not going to average 44 barrels like we did last year.”