In the midst of rice planting in south Louisiana, weather has been mild and early-planted rice is growing off well. Thus far, even the tests Steve Linscombe planted to test the planting window's edge look great. “I'll tell you,” says LSU's senior rice breeder, “I probably could have planted even earlier. It's been that good around here.”

However, while planting weather has been excellent, what has Linscombe and associates at the Crowley Rice Research Station excited are several new varieties.

Cheniere

Cheniere came off the research station as foundation seed in 2003. It's a semi-dwarf, about the same height as Cypress.

“With Cypress, even though it's a semi-dwarf, if you put excessive nitrogen on it, the plants can grow pretty tall,” says Linscombe. “That can lead to Cypress — and Cocodrie, under extreme conditions — lodging. Regardless, we believe Cheniere will be the most lodging-resistant variety of the three. Cheniere has a very good, stiff stalk and should stand up really well.”

Much of the rationale behind releasing Cheniere is tied to Cocodrie.

“Cocodrie has been the predominant variety in Louisiana for the last few years. Up to 55 to 60 percent of our acreage has been planted in it, and it's been widely planted in several other states too. Agronomically, Cocodrie does well — yields well and has decent adaptability.”

Cocodrie isn't without issues, though. Linscombe says while not wide-spread, Cocodrie is sometimes more difficult to mill.

“The bran is harder to remove. This problem happens in, perhaps, one out of every 25 lots. So, one thing we've been emphasizing is finding a variety that does well in the field but doesn't have quality issues. Cheniere doesn't seem to have milling issues, chalkiness. As far as head rice yields, it stands up to the varieties that have come out of Crowley the past few years.

“Another characteristic in Cheniere's favor is resistance to straighthead disorder — something Cocodrie lacks.”

Looking at the yield data generated over the last four years, Cheniere, yields are comparable to Cocodrie. Linscombe has seen no distinctive yield advantage — at least in Louisiana.

“However, if you look at (Arkansas Extension plant pathologist) Rick Cartwright's Cheniere tests from last year, it does seem to have a yield advantage over Cocodrie in Arkansas,” says Linscombe. “Rick indicated that Cheniere could have a broader area of adaptability. Of course, that's from only one year of data, so a long track record hasn't been established.”

Unfortunately, Cheniere is susceptible to sheath blight. In that regard (as well as susceptibility to blast) it's again comparable to Cocodrie and Cypress. In a bad sheath blight environment, a grower should take that into consideration before planting Cheniere, says Linscombe.

“Because of the some of the issues that have developed after Cocodrie was released, we sent Cheniere samples to mills everywhere trying to get feedback. All the feedback has been positive. We think the mills have been looking for this variety. Millers in Louisiana are asking me how many acres we'll have.”

As far as availability, seed will be tight. Looking back, “I believe we had something less than 2,000 hundredweight of foundation seed released last year. We had a lot of growers here that stretched seed pretty thin and put it on quite a few acres. In talking to our seed dealers and others in the rice industry, we've probably got enough seed to plant 60,000 to 80,000 acres. It depends on what kind of seeding rate is used. I do know that, as planting moves into high gear, if we're not out of seed, the bin is close to empty.”

(At press time, Linscombe said a limited supply of Cheniere foundation seed was still available at the Crowley Rice Research Station. If interested, contact Linscombe by phone at 337-788-7531.)

The name Cheniere comes out of south Louisiana and is French for “oak island. That's the best translation I can give.”

As one moves inland from the coast of Louisiana, there are many marsh areas. Through the years, the beach shifts and leaves behind long, narrow islands in the middle of these marshes. Since these islands are high ground, people tend to settle them amidst the live oaks that grow there — thus “Chenieres.”

Pirogue

A pirogue (pronounced “pee-row”) is a small boat similar to a canoe — a one- or two-man, narrow, flat-bottom boat with shallow draft. Pirogues are most often poled through Louisiana's shallow backwaters. Used by trappers in the past, pirogues are commonly used by duck hunters now.

People often ask Linscombe where the station's variety names come from. “Sometimes they joke around and accuse us of trying to find names that people outside Louisiana can't pronounce,” Linscombe says with a laugh. “I'm not going to tell you if that's true or false.”

The rice Pirogue is short grain and thus somewhat of an oddity. “Historically, we've grown very little short grain in the South. There was a variety, Nortai, grown 30 or so years ago on very limited acreage. But short grains are few and far between here. Some growers in Louisiana and Arkansas have dabbled with Japanese varieties, but there just hasn't been a large enough demand for short grains to be grown widely in the South.”

Then, about five or six years ago, a Louisiana mill found itself with a true, short grain market. Mills representatives asked if Linscombe and colleagues could develop a short grain that could be grown in the area.

“They needed something to fill that niche. We already had a few short grains in our breeding program, so we expanded those and worked on a variety.”

Pirogue produces a true “pearl” grain. While Linscombe doesn't think it will ever be grown on 100,000 acres, it will fill a need.

“We have had some interest from other states, though. We've moved some foundation seed in Arkansas, so there appears to be more demand than we suspected.”

Pirogue is a bit tall — about 43 inches. Because of the height, LSU researchers were concerned it would be susceptible to lodging. That concern hasn't proven out.

“We are telling our producers not to put a whole bunch of nitrogen on it. We're suggesting 130 to 140 total pounds of nitrogen (as opposed to 160 to 170 pounds on Cocodrie).”

Pirogue yields well and, atypical of recent Louisiana varieties, has a good disease package, says Linscombe. Pirogue is resistant to sheath blight, blast and straighthead. “We've seen that not only in research, but also in producer fields where it's been grown.”

Another thing that looks like a good fit for Pirogue is crawfish production. The variety produces a lot of bio-mass (a prerequisite to produce the “detrital material” crawfish eat).

“Producers who have grown Pirogue and followed with crawfish have had good experiences. The variety keeps a lot of stubble out through the winter.”

Ecrevisse

Ecrevisse (the Cajun/French word for “crawfish” and pronounced “eck-ra-veese”) is a new variety released this year. It was specifically developed and released as a crawfish forage variety.

“Down here, most of our crawfish is grown in a double-cropped system with rice,” says Linscombe. “They'll harvest a rice crop and then flood the fields in the fall and use the stubble for winter forage for crawfish.

“We also have a small, but growing, percentage of crawfish acres where producers are planting rice in late July to serve as crawfish forage during the winter. It's just like someone planting ryegrass for cattle. In this situation, commercial varieties tend to do okay. Prior to our work the past few years, however, no one has tried to develop a variety specifically for that situation.”

Ecrevisse has good cold tolerance. That means if a typical south Louisiana winter blows in, temperatures will get below freezing a couple of times. In such a winter season, there's a good chance a conventional variety's stubble will be killed. If that happens, crawfish run out of forage and the crustacean crop won't grow to its potential.

With Ecrevisse “we selected for good cold tolerance and a better ability to withstand a winter freeze. More often than not, Ecrevisse will grow back in the spring with re-growth and vegetation. That's very important because crawfish can grow large.”

Clearfield 161

Linscombe developed has worked with Clearfield varieties for many years. “The 161 is the hottest seed out right now. We'll probably plant as much seed as is available — somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 acres in Louisiana.”

The vast majority of those acres in south Louisiana will be water planted. In some of the really bad red rice fields where there's tremendous pressure, if producers can keep the field damp before the permanent flood is put on, “it allows the two applications of Newpath to do their job. Keeping it damp also helps suppress red rice a bit.”

It's expected around 400,000 acres will be grown across the southern rice growing area.

“The 161 isn't a perfect variety, but it really has the key characteristics that make the system work well. Comparing 161 to the earlier 141 and 121, it has enhanced resistance. We're able to go in with an early post application without worrying about injuring the crop. The 161 is a good fit for us and we like it down here.”

Clearfield 161 is very similar to Cypress in yield potential, making it “very competitive” overall. However, it does have some of the same problems as Cypress, including susceptibility to sheath blight.

“But it has excellent grain quality, and the mills love it. It's going to be an important variety at least for the next two or three growing seasons. We're putting a lot of time and effort into developing the next Clearfield varieties. There a couple of candidates that we're pleased with. Those may be ready to be talked about a year or so from now.”

LA2008 and LA2183

LA2008 is a conventional variety that will be in foundation this year.

“It's a very early line — earlier than Cocodrie. It looks like it might have slightly better yield potential than Cocodrie with good quality. LA2008 will be grown experimentally around the Delta this year. We're rather confident that this variety will be released.”

Another variety in the program, a medium grain, is LA2183. “It looks really good and could, on down the road, be a decent replacement for Bengal. Everyone can come see it and everything else we're working on at our field day in Crowley on July 1.”


e-mail: dbennett@primediabusiness.com