Despite predictions by USDA, LSU AgCenter experts say 2008 rice acreage likely will be up in Louisiana.
The big reason — a low worldwide supply of rice has led to a dramatic increase in prices. Rice is selling for around $30 for a 152-pound barrel — nearly double what it sold for last year.
“In the past week or so we've received a number of calls from people who had not intended to grow rice this year, but because of the price being so attractive, they're getting back into it,” LSU AgCenter rice specialist Johnny Saichuk said.
Traditional rice-growing parishes such as Acadia, Evangeline and Vermillion could see a 10 to15 percent increase in rice acreage, the experts say.
Steve Linscombe, director of the LSU AgCenter's Rice Research Station at Crowley, La., said farmers have a strong, positive attitude. “They're more upbeat than I've ever seen them,” he said.
Linscombe said many farmers are draining crawfish ponds earlier to plant rice. “We're picking up acreage every day,” he said.
Ron Levy, LSU AgCenter agent in Acadia Parish, said farmers who had planned to grow soybeans are considering a switch to rice because soybean seed is scarce and growing soybeans has a higher risk than growing rice.
Many fields that have not been in rice production for several years, including fields that experienced salt damage following Hurricane Rita, are going back into production.
These fields need work before planting, Saichuk said. It is late in the planting season, and some farmers are rushing to get their fields planted.
“We're trying to advise them to take their time and prepare the seedbeds,” he said. “And yes, they may miss the best planting dates. But let's get the crop in and get a stand and give it a fair chance.”
While most rice farmers can expect to make a profit this year, high prices are offset by the rising costs of fuel and fertilizer.
“Fertilizer prices this year have tripled,” Saichuk said. “It used to be one of those routine figures we didn't worry about — we worried about herbicides and insecticides.”
Eddie Eskew, LSU AgCenter county agent in Jefferson Davis Parish, said he expects only small acreage increases in his area this year. “The margin of profit is still so low, they're just not gambling,” Eskew said of farmers in his area.
St. Landry Parish farmer Kenneth Olivier has planted rice on a field he had in grain sorghum last year. He employed a no-till method, meaning the sorghum stubble was left in the field. This helps cut down on costs, he said.
“Any time you run a tractor, you've got cost involved,” Olivier said. “It's not just diesel. It's the cost of the tractor, the cost of labor. We're trying to reduce that as much as possible.”