Cocodrie is the new king of the Mid-South rice belt, at least as far as rice varieties go. The new top choice for Delta farmers is delegating such long-standing variety favorites as Lemont and Cypress to also-ran status.

Cocodrie's dramatic rise in popularity is especially evident in Mississippi where acreage planted to the new variety could jump from less than 10 percent of the state's rice acreage to nearly half of 2001's estimated 225,000 acres.

A Louisiana State University AgCenter variety release, Cocodrie became commercially available to farmers in 1998. Since then, its popularity has exploded at least partly due to its high yield potential. In state variety tests in Louisiana, Cocodrie has a three-year yield average of 7,874 pounds (175 bushels) per acre.

According to Mississippi Extension rice specialist Joe Street, Cocodrie has a high yield potential, good milling quality and is easy to harvest. However, it is very susceptible to sheath blight and straighthead, and is somewhat susceptible to blast and smut.

The potential for high yields, and the fact that it performed well across the Delta in 2000, seems to be the leading factors driving farmer adoption of the Cocodrie rice variety.

“Cocodrie yielded well last year without significant problems and, as a result, I expect it will be the most popular variety in Mississippi this year,” says Street. “Based on my best guess, Cocodrie will be planted on 40 to 50 percent of the state's acreage, Lemont and Priscilla will be planted on about 20 to 25 percent each, and Wells will be planted on 5 to 10 percent of the acreage.

That represents quite a change from the rice variety mix planted in Mississippi in past years. As recently as 2000, Cocodrie represented significantly less than 10 percent of the state's total rice production, far behind the more popular Lemont variety. Lemont, which was released in 1983, became the state's dominant variety in 1987 and held that top position until this year, according to Street.

Street says he believes Mississippi rice acreage will be up slightly in 2001, after falling sharply in 2000. “USDA is estimating 225,000 acres of rice will be planted across the state in 2001 and I think that number is in the ballpark,” he says. “We won't go back to our 1999 level, however, due to the cotton program and the high cost of fuel putting pressure on rice acreage.”

Mississippi rice producers planted 330,000 acres of rice in 1999, 218,000 acres in 2000, and are expected to plant 225,000 acres of the crop in 2001.

Farmers in Louisiana will likely plant between 550,000 and 580,000 acres of rice this year, according to state rice specialist Johnny Saichuk. Like Mississippi, 2001 rice acreage in Louisiana is up over 2000 levels, but still below 1999 acreage totals. The state's rice acreage dropped from 600,000 acres in 1999 to 478,333 acres in 2000, primarily due to water availability problems.

Also like farmers in neighboring states, Louisiana rice producers will increase Cocodrie plantings in 2001. Breaking down the state's long grain rice acreage, Saichuk says, 50 percent will be planted to Cocodrie, 40 percent to Cypress, 4 percent to Wells, 2 percent to Bengal, and 4 percent to other varieties including Jefferson, Priscilla, Maybelle and Earl.

Saichuk says that after talking to several sources across the state he was surprised to learn that a lack of acceptance of Cocodrie by some mills may be causing a shift back to Cypress at the expense of Cocodrie.

In 2000, 52.92 percent of the state's acreage was planted to Cypress, and 34.33 percent was planted to Cocodrie. Cypress, also a Louisiana developed variety, had garnered more than 70 percent of Louisiana's rice acreage each year since its 1992 commercial release.

In Arkansas, rice specialist Chuck Wilson says he has no doubt Cocodrie will be the number one variety chosen by his state's farmers in 2001. The Louisiana variety is expected to garner about 25 percent of the state's estimated 1.5 million rice acres, followed by Drew, an Arkansas variety release.

Last year, Drew was the rice variety chosen by more farmers in Arkansas, with Cypress, Wells and LaGrue trailing behind. In 2000, rice farmers in that state planted 27 percent of the state's acreage in Drew, 20 percent in Bengal, 16 percent in Cocodrie, 15 percent in Cypress and 10.4 percent in LaGrue.

The number of rice producers choosing Cocodrie over more traditional varieties is also on the rise in Texas.

Arlen Klosterboer, Extension agronomist at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, says Cocodrie acreage in his state is expected to increase this year. In 2000, the state's rice farmers planted 45 percent of their acreage to the Cypress variety and 33.9 percent to the Cocodrie variety. Thus, Cocodrie could surpass Cypress as the variety of choice among Texas farmers.

Overall, rice acreage in Texas is supposed to remain level with 2000 acreage levels, hovering around 210,000 acres. “It will be right there around 210,000 acres. It might go up or down by about 5,000 acres, but I doubt rice acreage will go below 200,000 this year,” he says.


e-mail: doreen_muzzi@intertec.com