Rice Farming

Rice & Crawfish

Durand brothers farm the Louisiana lowlands

By Carroll Smith

In the 1960s, Marin and Alcee John Durand were in the construction business, using bulldozers and heavy equipment to clear land and build crawfish ponds in the Louisiana lowlands. When they began clearing some of the family property, Marin and his sons Jeff, Matt, Edgar, C.J., Greg and Danny, who were already farming crawfish, decided to add rice to their operation.

Today, Marin, Jeff, C.J. and Greg rotate rice and crawfish on 1,350 acres near St. Martinville.

“Our rice acres vary year to year from 800 to 950,” Jeff says. “We also let 200 to 300 acres rest every year.”

Last year, the brothers planted two-thirds conventional varieties and one-third hybrids, including XL744, which yielded real well because they were able to get it out of the field before Hurricane Gustav hit. The Durands say that they would have planted more hybrids, but couldn’t procure enough seed.

“Before the storm, we were averaging 50 barrels per acre,” Jeff says.

“Hurricane season is very stressful for farmers,” Greg adds. “During that time, we hurry to get as much of the crop out of the field as possible before a storm hits and takes it away.”

This year, the Durands are planting XL723 (largest yield advantage – south Louisiana and the Texas regions), Clearfield XL745, Clearfield XL729, CL151 and 50 acres of Jazzman. An alternative to jasmine rice that is imported from Thailand, Jazzman was developed by Dr. Xueyan Sha, a rice breeder with LSU AgCenter, and is being grown as foundation seed in 2009.

Although not much medium grain rice typically is grown in the Mid-South and Texas, many farmers in these areas are interested in growing medium grain this year because of the favorable prices. The Durands say they considered it themselves, but opted not to grow any medium grain because the hybrids yield 15 to 20 percent more than medium grain, and the hybrid second-crop potential is much better. They also are hoping that with more acres going into medium grain this year that long-grain prices will recover.

Production practices
As far as management practices, the brothers say they pretty much manage their conventional varieties the same as the hybrids.

“We plant a lot of water-seeded rice into our crawfish ponds into last year’s stubble,” Greg says. “We pull the traps out of the pond and drain the water down. Then the night before the crop duster comes in, we let out all of the water. For the hybrids, we water-seed 30 pounds per acre compared to 100 to 120 pounds per acre for the conventional rice, depending on the variety.

“We manage our nitrogen about the same, too,” he adds. “The only difference is that we don’t have to put out fungicide for sheath blight on the hybrids.”

Because the Durands are in a rice/crawfish rotation, their fields are under constant pressure from aquatic weeds, such as smartweed, alligator weed and a relative newcomer to Louisiana called burhead. Burhead is a perennial aquatic broadleaf plant that grows mostly from seed in shallowly flooded areas.

LSU AgCenter weed scientist Eric Webster says this weed typically can be controlled fairly easily if the field is dried out and tilled. However, the Durands tried this approach, and it didn’t work well for them. They even tried planting soybeans on the field last year, but the pesky weed still returned.

The south Louisiana farmers are trying a new “concoction” this year, consisting of a tank mix of Roundup, First Shot and ammonium sulfate before planting, followed by Command after planting. Their hope is that this strategy will control the aquatic weed burhead.

Efficiencies increase bottom line
The Durand brothers are always looking for ways to make their operation more efficient. For example, they utilize a no-till planting system, so they don’t run their tractors as much, which saves on fuel and wear and tear on the equipment.

They also have converted five of their 10 diesel pumps to electric and are waiting for the electric company to run more power out to their farm so they can convert the others.

An Energy Audit was done on their farm in November 2007 by EnSave, Inc., which was funded by NRCS.

“The auditor said that we were saving 58 percent in fuel – based on $2.50 per gallon diesel, which represents their three-year average – by using electricity,” C.J. says. “He also found that our Pressure Cure grain bin system was the most energy efficient of any that he had ever studied.”

The CMC Pressure Cure system is based on the principle of forced, pressurized air drying and does not use any heat. In addition, this system is not a “layer-drying” or “stirrator” system with expensive annual maintenance costs.

Challenges/long-term outlook for U.S. rice
In addition to regional weather challenges that the farmers face, the Durands say today’s rice prices concern them.

“World rice prices are lower now than they were a year ago, which affects our prices,” Greg notes. “Before last year, $20 a barrel was a good price, but expenses have gone up so much that $20 a barrel doesn’t cut it anymore. We need higher prices.”

Export demand also is on top of their priority list of challenges.

“We’re hoping the new administration will open trade to Cuba,” Jeff says. “And even if trade to Cuba is opened, the way in which the Cubans have to pay for our rice has to be resolved, too. Also, if trade to Cuba is opened, the rice-loading facility at the Port of Lake Charles needs to be refurbished to load barges efficiently and ship rice directly from south Louisiana.”

As far as the long-term outlook for the future viability of U.S. rice, the Durands believe it’s important to open up more markets like Cuba and Iran and get more tenders from Iraq, all of which used to be big customers for U.S. rice.

“Sanctions against rice-importing countries really hurt the U.S. rice producers more than the people who live in those countries,” Jeff notes. “We also need higher-yielding specialty rice that we can grow in the United States to regain, or at least stop losing ground, in our jasmine and basmati domestic markets. That’s what we are hoping will happen with Jazzman.”

Whether they face production issues on the farm or bigger issues, such as world rice prices, the Durands intend to stick to their credo: “There’s always room for improvement.”

Contact Carroll Smith at (901) 767-4020 or csmith@onegrower.com.

Quick facts about Clearfield XL745 and XL723

Clearfield XL745 is the newest Clearfield hybrid, which exhibited excellent hybrid grain yield in 2006 and was tested extensively in 2007 by universities and RiceTec.

Clearfield XL745 characteristics:
• Improved grain retention and standard milling yield
• Best available disease tolerance package
• Five to six days earlier than CL161
• Excellent ratoon yield potential
The largest yield advantage in the Gulf Coast is in south Louisiana.

XL723 is a premier traditional hybrid, which exhibited excellent hybrid grain yield in 2004-06 university trials. It showed 27.4 percent higher yield than standard commercial varieties in 268 university head-to-head comparisons in the Coastal Region.

XL723 had an economic advantage over standard varieties 94 percent of the time with an average advantage of 13.2 barrels per acre. Also, a grain advantage of 3.5 barrels per acre represents economic breakeven.

XL723 characteristics:
• Standard milling yield
• Best available disease tolerance package
• Three to four days earlier than Cocodrie
• Excellent ratoon yield potential
The largest yield advantage in the Gulf Coast is in south Louisiana and the Texas regions.

Source: RiceTec, Inc.