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Desire To Succeed Describes The Rookie

Garrett Marsh finishes his second year of rice production

By Carroll Smith
Editor
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Garrett Marsh is not actually a rookie farmer since he has worked for their family farm in Madison Parish, La., since, in his words, “from the time I was old enough to see to drive a vehicle.” After graduating college in 2004, he came back to the cotton, corn and soybean operation – Marsh Farms – and, in 2006, began farming about 800 acres on his own.

However, 2009 was the first year Marsh tried his hand at growing rice. The heavy clay, which holds water well, was considered by others in the area as a “diamond in the rough” as far as rice ground goes. In fact, many years ago rice was grown there by someone else, but the land wasn’t level, which led to water management challenges and non-uniform stands.

In 2009, rice prices were fairly attractive compared to some of the other crops, so Marsh leveled 130 acres and combined that with another field that was the closest to being level that he had, although it still had contour levees. When it came to variety selection, Marsh says he was trying to find the equivalent of “triple nickel” cotton in rice. Ideally, he wanted to plant Cocodrie, but he ended up planting Cheniere and was pleased with the way the variety turned out at the end of the season.

Acquiring Good ‘Rice Advice’ During Initial Season

Although he was an experienced farmer of other row crops, Rice Farming had to ask the obvious question: “Not ever having farmed rice before, how did you know what to do?”

Marsh was quick to admit, “It was an entertaining experience in itself.” To help him get started on the right foot, he enlisted advice from other farmers, area county agents R. L. Frazier Jr. and Donna Lee and signed up 30 acres in Dr. John Saichuk’s rice verification trials. Saichuk is the LSU AgCenter Extension rice specialist.

“I hired a man from Arkansas to pull the levees for me,” Marsh says, “Then Johnny advised me on how to plant the rice and how deep to plant it. He walked the field with me every week, showing me the different stages of rice and how to scout for insects and disease. Johnny, R.L. and Donna basically held my hand through the season. Planting rice for the first time was kind of scary, but I felt more confident about it once I got through the first year and harvested about 180 bu/A.

“Even though there is a lot of manual labor involved in growing rice, which I don’t mind, I really like this crop,” he adds.

 
Marsh Embraces New Technology
 

One of Louisiana farmer Garrett Marsh’s first investments when he started farming on his own in 2006 was a GPS auto-steer system for his tractor.

“I personally see it as a way to save money,” he says. “You know the old saying that you have to spend money to save money. It’s a big investment to go with GPS, but after I ran it for a year, I realized that I was being a little more productive because I could row up at night, for example. Not to mention, you don’t have all the gaps that you have without auto-steer. You are saving that much money in chemicals, time and energy.”

Marsh also keeps a laptop in his truck with all of his field records on it and says he doesn’t know how he would function without his iPhone. He has several apps (applications) downloaded, including one provided by DuPont that deals with tankmixes. His iPhone also has a calculator.

“Another plus is that DTN sends me text messages on my phone as far as things like market prices. You really can’t do without one these days. I’ve actually felt that if I lost my iPhone, I am really missing something. It’s a good way to communicate on the farm. I couldn’t get along without it.”

Saichuk, who has worked with many rice farmers over the years, says, along the way, he has had two or three “rookies.”

“The first thing I like about working with them is that they don’t have any bad habits to break,” he says. “In general, my experience with new rice farmers has been good because they are willing to follow my recommendations. Secondly, they are really interested and excited about rice because everything is new to them.”

Well Installed, Tailwater Recovery System In The Works

After successfully growing 300 acres of rice in 2009, Marsh initiated a soybean/rice rotation in 2010. He planted 130 acres in Cocodrie and Cheniere and the remaining 170 acres in soybeans.

“Rotating soybeans with rice should make my soybeans yield a little better and potentially keep red rice from becoming an issue in the fields,” he says.

Marsh also notes that having access to water is paramount to successfully growing crops in his area. In 2009, he installed a well, allowing him to pump up his rice acreage, and he is now in the process of working on a tailwater recovery system.

“Some farmers around here have access to surface water, but I don’t,” Marsh says. “However, I do have a main ditch that runs through the middle of my place, and, eventually, I’m hoping that everything that I pump onto my crop I can recover, turn around and use it again.”

Saichuk agrees with Marsh’s assessment of the importance of irrigation. “Without irrigation, it’s getting to the point that there’s no more profit margin to surviving a drought year,” the rice specialist says. “Therefore, you try to eliminate as many variables as you can. To make the irrigation well pay for itself, you need to use it a lot, and, of course, rice is one of the best ways to recover that investment. Another positive is that rice can withstand the weather better. It’s a pretty durable crop.”

In the last couple of years, rice acreage has increased in north Louisiana as farmers look for another crop to add to the mix. Madison Parish county agent R.L. Frazier Jr. points out that the soil types (heavier clays) are well suited to rice, and more farmers are putting in irrigation wells.

“We probably saw a 50 percent increase in irrigation wells in Madison Parish in the last two years,” he says.

Donna Lee, county agent for East Carroll Parish, which also is in north Louisiana, says that parish is probably 65 percent irrigated.

Environmental Challenges In 2010

In summing up his 2010 growing season, Marsh says that as the year progressed, farmers didn’t get much rain in his area, and he used a lot of diesel pumping up his rice. The extreme heat that blanketed much of the Mid-South last year took a toll on overall yields as well as milling yields. A storm that came through after the rice was headed, but before harvest had actually begun, resulted in a lot of down rice with which farmers had to contend.

Despite the environmental challenges farmers like Marsh faced in 2010, the average rice yield for Madison Parish was about 155 bu/A (6,975 lbs/A) compared to the state average of 6,500 lbs/A.

“It was an interesting harvest season,” Marsh admits. “However, I plan to continue my rotation in 2011, planting Cheniere on my rice acres and beans or corn on the other field. Hopefully, we will have a little more moderate weather this year.”

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

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