Panicle blight is affecting Louisiana rice as farmers in the southern end of the state are gearing up for harvest, according to Johnny Saichuk, LSU AgCenter rice specialist.

During a July 14 rice field day in northeast Louisiana, Saichuk said that conditions have been ideal for the fungal disease with hot nighttime temperatures when the rice plants were flowering. He said the problem is not isolated to Louisiana.

“Rice in Texas is getting nailed.”

Saichuk said the best prevention for panicle blight is to plant early so the plants are in the flowering stage before the hottest days of summer.

The disease characteristics include a chocolate-brown grain with green panicle branches. The disease effects differ among varieties. Jupiter appears to have resistance, while CL111 is susceptible.

Saichuk estimated Louisiana has 550,000 acres of rice this year, roughly 80,000 acres more than 2009. He said the crop was planted late, and farmers were late to flood their fields.

Also at the field day, Chris Coreil of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service urged farmers to sign up for the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative. The program was established this year to provide waterfowl with flooded fields for a wintering area as an alternative to coastal areas that are threatened by the BP oil spill. The deadline for signing up is August.

“As it stands, all the initial funds have been used up,” Coreil said. But additional money could be allocated.

“The spotlight is on Louisiana and the Gulf Coast right now,” he said.

The program will pay farmers for flooding fields or maintaining rainfall on their land. The amount paid per acre could vary from $10 to $100, depending on what farmers do.

“There are many pieces to this that you can work with your operation.”

Also at the field day, Steve Linscombe, LSU AgCenter rice breeder, gave an overview on different lines of rice being grown for possible new varieties.

Dustin Harrell, LSU AgCenter agronomist, advised farmers to determine if their soil needs additional zinc. “When it’s not there, it can make a big difference,” he said of the nutrient.

Harrell said the Mosaic soil amendment of ammonium phosphate includes zinc.

Natalie Hummel, LSU AgCenter entomologist, talked about her work on rice seed treatments to control rice water weevils. She said results this year showed Dermacor had the best effect.

Ron Levy, LSU AgCenter soybean specialist, said the state’s soybean crop of slightly more than 1 million acres would have been larger if the weather had been more cooperative.

Levy said brown stinkbugs and loopers are turning up in fields, and more weeds are showing resistance to the glyphosate herbicide.

Boyd Padgett, LSU AgCenter plant pathologist, said Cercospera is showing up in soybeans, and it can be treated with fungicides.

So far, he said, no Asian soybean rust has been detected in Louisiana, but it has shown up in Alabama, Texas and Florida.