Rice farmers are looking forward to the 2008 growing season as prices continue to rise, but the uncertainty of a pending farm bill remains.

Farmers at the Northeast Louisiana Rice Growers rice forum held Jan. 30 in Rayville, La., said they are encouraged by rice prices.

Farmer Damian Bollich of Jones, La., said his 2007 rice crop of 150 acres won’t increase this year, but he might plant more next year if prices remain high. “I would probably plant more rice if I didn’t have milo booked already,” he said. “It’s a little too late to change.”

He expects farmers in north Louisiana to plant less corn and cotton and plant more soybeans and rice.

Tony Janes of Morehouse Parish said the current prices are the best he’s seen since he started farming in 1987. Janes said he will plant 400 acres of rice this year, about the same as last year’s total. “It seems like I have more money in my pocket if I plant some rice,” he said.

Janes said many farmers will be tempted to put more acreage into soybeans because the price is so good for that commodity. “Soybeans at $12 a bushel is just unreal,” he said.

His neighbor, Kermit Keithen of Jones, La., said he will plant 500 acres of rice this year, the same as in 2007.

Brooks Greer of Rayville said he will double his rice crop to 600 acres this year because his order for soybean seed was cut by 60 percent.

At the forum, farmers heard from LSU AgCenter researchers and USA Rice Federation representatives.

Steve Linscombe, LSU AgCenter rice breeder, said several potential varieties are in development, including long-grain and medium-grain Clearfield, an aromatic Jasmine-type.

Johnny Saichuk, LSU AgCenter rice specialist, expects the final tally will show the 2007 Louisiana rice crop had a record yield with 6,400 pounds per acre.

Dustin Harrell, LSU AgCenter agronomist, advised farmers that nitrogen fertilizer will cost $550 a ton this year. But he said farmers should continue to use the correct amount. “Nitrogen fertilizer is the one nutrient you can’t cut back on,” he said.

Reece Langley of the USA Rice Federation had some good news on nitrogen costs, however. He said import restrictions that impose a 64 percent duty on urea fertilizer from Ukraine and Russia could be lifted, and that could at least limit further price increases.

The USA Rice Federation staff also made a presentation in Crowley, La., at a joint meeting of the Louisiana Rice Council and the Louisiana Rice Growers Association.

On the farm bill, legislative consultant Larry Combest, former congressman from Texas, said new budget figures will be released on March 15 that could limit funding for farm programs.

He said the 90-day extension for the 2002 farm bill expires March 15. If the president does not sign a farm bill by then, a permanent farm bill written in 1949 will take effect.

Combest, who as congressman helped write the 2002 farm bill, said he expects the Senate and House conferees to reach an agreement on a farm bill within the first two weeks of March, but the White House has hinted it would veto their current proposals.

“We are playing a major game of political gotcha,” Combest told the gathering in Crowley. “This is high-level, high-stakes poker at its best.”

Betsy Ward, USA Rice Federation president, said U.S. rice exports have increased by 22 percent from last year. She said more rice may be sold to Cuba this year because Vietnamese rice is less plentiful, and Iraq plans to buy more American rice this year.

The biggest source of rice imported into the United States is aromatic rice from Thailand, she said, adding that the work at the LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station could help U.S. rice farmers grow a variety to compete with Thai Jasmine.

She said a labeling program is being planned to help distinguish American-grown rice from foreign rice.

e-mail: bschultz@agcenter.lsu.edu