• By Bruce Schultz •
Two Louisiana State University AgCenter rice experts gave their perspectives on the past growing season in Louisiana during a recent online presentation for the 2020 USA Rice Outlook Conference.
The event is usually held in one of the six rice-producing states — it was scheduled for Austin, Texas, in 2020 — but it was held virtually this year because of the pandemic.
Don Groth, resident coordinator of the AgCenter H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station at Crowley, discussed his disease work and the work of other scientists at the station.
He said the station’s research projects were affected by tropical weather; research plots in Jefferson Davis Parish were devastated. “After Hurricane Laura came through, it looked like someone came through with a stripper header,” Groth said.
He said his work in 2020 included a fungicide study for smuts that were a major problem in 2019, and the study showed using propiconazole and Amistar Top could be 95% effective against smuts.
Much of the work at the station involves testing new products, and many are found to be ineffective. But this research is beneficial for advising farmers what they should not use on their crops. The AgCenter prefers three years of data before making a recommendation on a product.
Groth said one of the big changes he has noticed in his 37-year career is the reduction of very susceptible and susceptible disease breeding materials. Most of the very disease-susceptible varieties and breeding material have been eliminated. The last major blast outbreak was in 2012, and the last widespread outbreak of Cercospora was 14 years ago.
Groth also reviewed the work of researchers at the rice station.
• AgCenter weed scientist Eric Webster is studying herbicide timing and rates and aggressive methods of weedy rice control.
• AgCenter rice breeder Adam Famoso has two conventional long-grain lines with high yield potential, good quality and disease resistance. He said the lines could be released next year.
• AgCenter geneticist Brijesh Angira will be handling medium-grain rice breeding. Angira has used his expertise to identify genetic markers for disease, plant height and other simply inherited traits, and they allow the breeding program to look at more complex traits such as yield that are determined by multiple genes.
• Much of Dustin Harrell’s work in agronomy has focused on nitrogen rate, timing and source; planting rates; and other agronomic practices for varieties and hybrids.
• AgCenter hybrid rice breeder Jim Oard has several new promising candidates that are being evaluated. The challenge in hybrid breeding is producing an adequate amount of seed economically.
• AgCenter molecular biologist Herry Utomo is evaluating the genetic traits involved in yield and quality. Utomo’s other work includes studying digestibility of rice to make it more acceptable to people with diabetes and improving coastal marsh plants.
• AgCenter rice researcher Ida Wenefrida has been successful at developing rice with increased protein levels, and she is now working on herbicide-resistant rice.
• AgCenter entomologist Blake Wilson has included seed treatments, along with insecticide timing and rates, in his research projects.
Groth will retire at the end of January, and Harrell has been selected as the station’s new resident coordinator. Groth said a nationwide search is underway for his replacement as rice pathologist.
Harrell has been the AgCenter rice Extension specialist, and that position will be assumed by Ron Levy, formerly the director of the Louisiana Master Farmer Program.
A look back, a look forward
Levy also addressed the conference and said he expects Louisiana rice acreage to increase by 15,000 to 20,000 acres in 2021. Louisiana rice acreage totaled almost 476,000 in 2020. Most south Louisiana farmers will stay with rice and plant fewer acres of soybeans in southwest Louisiana. North Louisiana rice acreage has been increasing, reflecting a growing demand for suitable waterfowl hunting habitat.
The amount of row rice grown in north Louisiana totaled 35,000 acres in 2020. In 2017, north Louisiana farmers planted 2,500 acres with that technique.
The practice gives farmers more flexibility without modifying their fields, Levy said, but they have to learn how to deal with different weeds and insects along with an increased chance of blast disease.
The 2020 rice growing season started with good weather for planting that allowed farmers to plant 75% of their fields in the first two weeks of March. “We thought we were going to have record-setting yields,” Levy said.
Heavy rains delayed planting in north Louisiana.
Hurricane Laura hit Louisiana in August after most of the rice in southwest Louisiana was harvested but much of the farming infrastructure in the southwest part of the state was damaged. Laura moved to north Louisiana as a Category 1 hurricane that damaged a large portion of the crop there.
The 2020 second crop harvest in south Louisiana decreased by 24% this year because of Hurricane Delta in October.
The overall average yield in Louisiana was 7,135 pounds per acre, Levy said.
Representatives from other states also made presentations on their crop.
Jarrod Hardke, University of Arkansas rice extension agronomist, projected that state’s 2021 rice acreage to be 1.35 million, compared to 1.44 million acres of rice grown this year.
Hardke said tropical weather also hurt Arkansas’ crop this year, with a yield decrease of 25% from 2019.
Bruce Schultz is assistant communications specialist at the LSU AgCenter. He may be reached at BSchultz@agcenter.lsu.edu