John Saichuk is trying to get a handle on rice acreage in Louisiana. The Extension rice specialist for the state says he's been getting mixed messages from seed dealers and producers.

“I sent out a little correspondence to the Extension agents in the state in hopes they can help fill in the picture for me,” says Saichuk. “Seed dealers are telling me that rice acreage is going to be off 20 percent or more. Farmers, meanwhile, are telling me that acreage won't see nearly that big a drop — maybe 10 percent or less.

“USDA also has Louisiana rice acres down, but it didn't predict as big a drop as the dealers are claiming. So it's a mixed bag as far as information.”

There are a couple of possibilities for the percentage differences, says Saichuk.

“Maybe the seed dealers are sensing a reduction because there's more bin-run seed or because of the trend towards lower seeding rates. Either of those possibilities would mean less seed purchased and would lead dealers to think acreage will be down. We just don't know for sure.

“It does appear, however, that acreage is unlikely to be off as much as was thought earlier.”

In December, Saichuk thought Louisiana's acreage would be down 20 percent. “Since talking to producers, I've come off that at least 5 percent. At the start of this season, I thought we'd have 470,000 acres of rice. Normally, we're around 530,000 acres.”

Regardless of how much rice has been planted, the crop is off to a very late and slow start.

“Rice is simply struggling down here. Steve Linscombe (LSU AgCenter rice breeder stationed in Crowley, La.) told me that rice in his research plots is struggling more than ever before.”

The problems are all weather-related — the state has seen cool, rainy, cloudy days for a long time.

“Whenever it looks like we'll have a string of good-weather days, it turns off rainy again,” says Saichuk. “We thought we'd have a break this week (April 21-28), and then the latest forecast calls for a cool front and more rain. These poor starts are happening from south Louisiana to the central part of the state. North Louisiana is just now cranking up planting, so it hasn't affected producers there as much.”

A slow start usually means more problems — insect, disease, or both. Saichuk says farmers must now watch out for rice weevils, stinkbugs and other pests.

The late start could also mean less second-crop rice coming out of the southern half of the state. All isn't lost — the season hasn't progressed so far that second crop rice can't be planted, “but if these weather patterns continue, we'll be under the gun,” says Saichuk. “Last year, we had the best second crop of rice we've had in years and the hurricanes took care of that.”

And the depressing news continues. Saichuk says he ran across some interesting data: farmers haven't sold rice for less money since 1943.

“That isn't counting inflation; that's actual dollars,” he says. “We actually sold rice for more in 1919 (a market blip having to do with WWI). Something has to change quickly.”

On a brighter note, Saichuk says seed of Chenier — a new Louisiana variety — sold out rapidly. “Chenier has maturity between Cypress and Cocodrie, Cypress-like milling characteristics, and a better yield potential than Cocodrie. We think it will eventually replace Cocodrie.”

Saichuk says there's also a lot of interest in Francis, a new variety out of Arkansas. The only Clearfield variety he's heard getting “much play at all” is 161.

“I've seen quite a few acres of hybrids going in — everyone wants to try a few acres. If the price for hybrid seed weren't so high and the price of regular seed weren't so low, we'd likely see more experimenting of that type.”


e-mail: dbennett@primediabusiness.com.