• By Bruce Schultz •
The harvest for the 2020 rice crop in south Louisiana is nearing the halfway point, and the result is a big improvement over a string of bad to mediocre years.
“If these yields hold out, I believe it would tie the second-highest-yielding year, and it still has the potential to be a record if the high yields hold out,” said LSU AgCenter rice specialist Dustin Harrell. “Regardless if the current crop does not reach the record, it will definitely rank up there with one of our highest-yielding years.”
The record year for growing rice in Louisiana was in 2016 with an average of 7,300 pounds an acre, which equals 45 barrels or 162 bushels. Harrell estimates the current crop at 7,250 pounds — 44.7 barrels or 161 bushels — so far. That compares to 6,300 pounds — 39 barrels or 140 bushels — last year.
Varieties are yielding in the mid- to upper 40 barrels (or more than 144 bushels) an acre with some hitting 50 barrels (180 bushels), he said. Hybrids are reaching the upper 50- to low 60-barrel (216-bushel) range.
Unlike last year, when the crop was hurt by extreme weather, growing conditions were ideal this year. “Conditions were almost perfect for growing rice,” Harrell said.
Occasional rain interfered with the start of the harvest, but drier weather has allowed farmers to get into the fields.
Don Groth, resident coordinator of the AgCenter H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station, said this year’s weather has been much more favorable for growing a crop. “The environmental conditions are totally different than last year,” he said.
The disease incidence is also much lower. “We’re not seeing fall and kernel smuts that we saw last year,” he said.
Smuts are starting to show up on later-planted rice. “But nothing compared to what we had last year,” he said.
Groth, a plant pathologist, said sheath blight and blast disease pressure has also been light this year.
That has helped boost yields. A field of the variety CL153 at the Rice Research Station yielded 59 barrels or 212 bushels per acre. A nearby farmer who had a bad sheath blight problem on a field of CL153 still yielded 54 barrels an acre, Groth said.
Harvest in full swing
Jeremy Hebert, AgCenter agent in Acadia Parish, said the harvest is in full swing in his area. “There’s a lot of rice that’s ready to come out now,” he said.
The 2020 crop is a big improvement from 2019. “It’s a big contrast from last year. Things actually worked out in farmers’ favor,” he said.
Unlike last year, the bad disease problems such as smuts that hurt the 2019 crop have not been a major factor this year. “They haven’t even seen it in fields adjacent that had smut real bad last year,” Hebert said.
Jimmy Meaux, AgCenter agent in Calcasieu and Jefferson Davis parishes, said the harvest in Calcasieu is close to half finished, and Jefferson Davis is 35% to 40% complete.
Afternoon showers have been less frequent in the past few days, allowing farmers to make good progress. Yields in Calcasieu Parish are in the mid-40 barrels, and Jefferson Davis yields are mirroring Acadia Parish.
“The crop looks better than last year so far,” Meaux said. “Not a lot of disease.”
In Vermilion Parish, AgCenter agent Andrew Granger said 75% of the crop is harvested. Yields are good but not great, with most varieties producing more than 40 barrels an acre and hybrids exceeding 50 barrels an acre.
The crop there was affected by excessive rainfall late in the season and high nighttime temperatures, Granger said.
Conditions are good for the 30% to 35% of the parish’s acreage that will be used to grow a second crop. The remaining acreage will be used for crawfish.
Farmers are also benefitting from a price increase over last year. “Even a dollar a barrel more makes a huge difference,” Granger said.
Todd Fontenot, AgCenter agent in Evangeline Parish, said a little more than a third of the acreage has been harvested there. “Just about everybody is in the fields now,” he said.
Yields are in the mid- to upper 40 barrels with hybrids in the mid-50 barrels.
Field conditions are causing combines and tractors to rut fields badly. “Things are pretty wet,” Fontenot said.
Evangeline Parish’s second-crop acreage will decrease because more crawfish is being produced.
In north Louisiana, AgCenter agent Keith Collins in Richland Parish said some early-planted fields have been drained, and harvest may begin soon.
“We will begin harvest earlier this year as we had rice planted in early to mid-April in some areas, Collins said. “Much of our rice was planted in May.”
Collins is optimistic for the north Louisiana crop. “I think the crop looks pretty good. I have concerns about rice that pollinated the last two weeks of July as we had frequent rain showers and cloudy days,” he said.
Bruce Schultz is assistant communications specialist at the LSU AgCenter. He may be reached at BSchultz@agcenter.lsu.edu