NEW ORLEANS — In good years and bad, rice producers will invariably point to three things — price, yield and weather — as to why they succeeded or came up short. This year was no different, according to those interviewed during the Rice Outlook Conference.

On paper, this was another good year for U.S. rice production. USDA is projecting U.S. rice yields that are higher than or equal to 2003 in all rice-producing states except one.

In the Mid-South, Arkansas yields are projected 210 pounds higher than last year, at 6,800 pounds. Mississippi yields are projected 100 pounds higher than last year, at 6,900 pounds. Missouri yields are projected 270 pounds higher, to 6,400 pounds. But in Louisiana, weird weather reduced average yields by a projected 520 pounds from last year, to 5,350 pounds.

“Our crops did not turn out well, primarily because of weather,” said Doug Vincent, a Tulsa, Okla., landowner who leases rice ground in Rayne, La. “We had some that was under water because of all the rain. We had a wet season early, then it didn’t get hot enough and the rice just did not develop.”

Both yields and quality “were off considerably for us,” according to Vincent. “And we didn’t make a second crop. I kind of wished we had tried. Our yields were like we used to get in the 1960s, which was unacceptable.”

Vincent attended the Rice Outlook Conference “to get an idea of where rice farming is going, and the outlook for prices. I’m concerned about what we’re going to use the land for in years to come. But 10 years ago, I didn’t think rice production would be in existence today. Somehow, we keep on going.”

“It was a disappointing crop,” said Louisiana rice specialist Johnny Saichuk, “mainly because of the strange weather patterns that set our yields back. We had a couple of good years prior when we were constantly increasing yield. Obviously, Mother Nature taught us a good lesson about that.

“All we can do is hope for some good sunshine to produce a good crop. But we are also in a time when we don’t need an increase in acreage. I’ve heard farmers say they will cut back or their lenders are going to cut back for them. It’s going to be a tough year.”

“Overall, we brought in a better than average crop,” said Benoit, Miss., rice producer Travis Satterfield. The producer said the biggest issue facing rice producers in 2005 is price. “We keep hearing about the world supply being down, but we don’t see that reflected in the market right now. With the limited LDP, the revenue stream for rice is slim.

“We have a lot of environmental pressures, like reducing water use,” he added. “Researchers are looking at how we can grow rice with less water — by going to earlier-maturing varieties and using some alternate flood patterns.”

Satterfield said the discovery of Asian soybean rust in some areas of the Mid-South will not likely result in a major shift in his crop mix in 2005. “We may put a few soybean acres into rice in 2005. If we get a good pricing scenario for corn, it may be acceptable to replacing soybeans. But now, we don’t have a really attractive alternative for soybeans. So we won’t have a big shift in acres.”

“We had a pretty good crop, but the prices were down so much that it was not a profitable year,” said Lenny Hensgens, a Crowley, La., rice producer. “Because of high input costs for fertilizer and diesel fuel, rice farmers are really having a problem showing a profit. It’s encouraging that world supplies are in a deficit position. We’re using more than we’re producing. One of these days, the prices are going to have to turn around.”

Rick Spargo, a Neelyville, Mo., rice producer, had an above average year for yields. “We did have a problem with blast. One field was hurt pretty badly even though we sprayed it with fungicide twice.”

Spargo is concerned that rice prices “aren’t profitable at the time. We should have contracted more back in the spring. But that’s hindsight.”

Some of Spargo’s production success this year goes to his planting of Clearfield rice, which is resistant to the herbicide Newpath. Spargo planted 400 acres in Clearfield XL-8 and 100 acres of CL 161, along with 1,300 acres of conventional rice.

His Clearfield XL-8, a hybrid line with the Clearfield technology, was the top yielder on the farm, coming in around 200 bushels. His CL 161 yielded around 140 bushels, “but it was on a lot tougher ground. We got it in and got the red rice under control. The CL 161 is very aggressive emerging from the soil and that’s why we planted it where we did.”

e-mail: erobinson@primediabusiness.com