Dr. Steve Linscombe, director of the LSU AgCenter’s Rice Research Station at Crowley, La., said he has noticed an improvement in commercial fields and his breeding plots throughout the state recently.
“Rice has really started to grow the last few days with higher temperatures, especially higher nighttime temperatures, which are critical for active growth during early stages of development,” Linscombe said. “I think my early-March-planted rice has grown more in the last seven days than in the first 40 since it was planted.”
Dr. Johnny Saichuk, LSU AgCenter rice specialist, said he has noticed a big improvement in the crop, too. “It is finally growing and looking like a normal rice crop,” he said.
Saichuk also attributed the arrival of warmer weather as a big boost to the crop, but it also brought out rice water weevils.
Steady winds are causing problems in water-seeded rice, Saichuk said, explaining that the winds have caused seed to drift, resulting in unevenness of seedlings.
Fields that were drill-seeded need to be sprayed with herbicides, but farmers relying on ground equipment are waiting on fields to dry up, he said.
North Louisiana farmers are nearing completion of planting, Saichuk said. “By next week, they’ll finish up.”
Saichuk said the final statewide acreage figure had been projected around 490,000 acres, compared to last year’s total of 458,000, but decreases in the coastal area could be more than increases in north Louisiana.
Barrett Courville, LSU AgCenter county agent for rice in Acadia and Jefferson Davis parishes, said most farmers were late in planting, but now they have been waiting for better weather.
“There’s probably 3-4 percent that hasn’t been planted,” Courville said.
He said wind and rain are preventing farmers from getting in the fields to spray their crops with ground rigs. “If it would dry up and the wind would quit blowing, we could get in and spray and fertilize,” he said.
Courville said he expects acreage in both parishes to be about the same as last year’s totals – 83,737 acres in Acadia and 81,782 in Jefferson Davis – and perhaps even slightly more.
The rice crop has taken a beating from the wind, according to Keith Fontenot, LSU AgCenter county agent in Evangeline Parish.
Rains have kept the soil cool, and persistent winds have hurt the young plants, he said.
“The majority of the rice is off to a slow start,” Fontenot said. “The wind is beating up the rice.”
He said the tips of the plants are discoloring and dry.
Winds have pushed shallow water to the ends of fields, he said, leaving parts exposed.
But the first shot of fertilizer has helped boost crops in just a few days.
Fontenot said Evangeline Parish acreage will be the same as last year’s at 44,326 acres, or even increase slightly.
More farmers have drill-seeded their fields, and fields planted with medium-grain rice have increased because of attractive contract prices, he said.
Stuart Gauthier, LSU AgCenter county agent in Vermilion Parish, said most farmers in the parish have finished planting. “I think we’re probably 90 percent finished,” he said.
Acreage is somewhere in the range of 32,000, down considerably from last year’s total of 61,788 acres because of the lingering effects of Hurricane Ike, he said. Gauthier recalled that the 2006 crop dropped to 33,000 acres after Hurricane Rita.
Most acreage has been planted in Clearfield varieties, he said.
Linscombe said the amount of the state’s rice acreage devoted to Clearfield types – both varieties and hybrids – will also be at an all-time high in 2009, perhaps more than 60 percent of the crop.
March and April rainfall inspired some farmers to plant more acreage, he said, because canals were flushed of salt water.
“Even with the rain, some farmers I’ve talked with see the salt levels coming up again,” Linscombe said.
He said some crawfish fields will be drained soon for rice planting, and that will add a few thousand acres to the total.
North Louisiana rice farmers have almost wrapped up planting, LSU AgCenter experts say.
“I drove around, and there were a few fields not planted,” said Donna Lee, LSU AgCenter county agent in East Carroll Parish.
Lee said she expects rice acreage to increase in northeast Louisiana because drought will not affect the crop. Some cotton acreage will go to rice, she said, because cotton prices are so low.