Cocodrie, a rice variety released by the LSU AgCenter in the late 1990s, remained king of the rice paddy in Louisiana this year, but AgCenter researchers say they're tinkering with a number of new rice lines that could give farmers more options at planting time within a couple of years.

Among those are new medium-grain experimental lines and improved Clearfield rice lines that soon will be evaluated in winter plots at a Puerto Rican nursery that the LSU AgCenter shares with other universities.

This year, though, high-yielding Cocodrie again dominated the rice acreage in Louisiana with a total of 257,906 acres planted — nearly 58 percent of all rice acres in the state. Last year, Cocodrie had a 54 percent share.

Cypress, another LSU AgCenter variety, finished second in the state with 111,999 acres planted or 25 percent. Clearfield 161, a new release that works particularly well on rice fields swamped by red rice weeds, finished third in Louisiana with a little more than 30,000 acres planted (6.8 percent).

Statewide, estimates are that 445,500 acres of rice were planted in 2003 — about 87,000 acres fewer than in 2002.

Johnny Saichuk, the LSU AgCenter's rice specialist, said he expects rice acreage to rebound a bit in 2004, “but I don't think we'll get quite back to the level that we saw in 2002.”

“Some farmers are still hesitant (about prices), and I expect we'll bounce back sort of like the stock market — in small steps, two steps forward and one back,” said Saichuk. “Farmers are still fearful of overproducing and the effect that could have on the price next year.”

Saichuk and others said Cheniere, a long-grain rice released just this year by the LSU AgCenter, and Clearfield 161 should each see healthy gains in acreage in 2004. “I think you could see CL 161 acreage triple in Louisiana next year,” Saichuk said.

Steve Linscombe, chief rice breeder and southwest regional director for the LSU AgCenter, said he expects Cheniere and Clearfield 161, which is used in conjunction with BASF's NewPath herbicide to control red rice, to take off next year with many more acres of each being planted.

This year, Clearfield 161 was planted on a little more than 30,000 acres in Louisiana. Linscombe and others project between 75,000 and 90,000 acres to be planted statewide in 2004.

Cheniere, a long-grain rice with yield potential similar to Cocodrie's and superior milling quality, was planted on roughly 600 to 1,000 acres in 2003, although it was released by the LSU AgCenter's Rice Research Station this year.

“We expect it to expand pretty dramatically next year,” Linscombe said. “Demand for Cheniere probably will outstrip the supply in 2004.”

Cheniere holds potential as a high-yielding variety that could gain market-share and give producers another solid variety in their arsenal.

This year, almost 60 percent of rice acreage was planted in Cocodrie, a rice variety with great yields but mixed milling results.

In the past, millers have had some problems getting the bran off some lots of Cocodrie, and it is more likely to present milling problems at low moisture levels (below 12 percent).

“Cheniere mills better and seems to have more head rice (whole kernels) than Cocodrie,” Linscombe said.

“We got it into the hands of a number of farmers, and most of the people I have spoken to had quite good yields,” the LSU AgCenter rice breeder said.

Keith Rockett of R&Z Farms grew 20 acres of Cheniere on his south Louisiana farm and liked the new variety.

“We didn't see a whole lot of downside to it,” Rockett said. “We averaged in the high 40s (barrels per acre), and it seemed strong throughout the whole growing season.”

Rockett said he'd like to grow 200 acres or so of Cheniere in 2004 if he can get his hands on that much seed.

Rice broker Billy Prather of Crowley, La., also gives Cheniere high marks for clarity — clear, white kernels with no milky or cloudy spots — and its strong milling quality.

Cheniere is closer to Cypress in milling quality, Prather said, noting that Cypress typically gets the top score of all south Louisiana rice for its milling strength.

“I think more people will be trying to find some. People will plant as much as they can get their hands on next year,” said Prather, who serves as middleman between farmers and the rice mills, in his comments about Cheniere.

Linscombe said research is continuing on a variety of new types of rice, including new medium-grains.

Medium-grains once were the mainstay of south Louisiana rice farming. But over the past two decades, long-grain rice varieties have become more popular and much more widely planted. This year, about 95 percent of all rice planted in Louisiana was long-grain.

Bengal, a medium-grain rice variety released by LSU AgCenter researchers in 1992, remains the most widely grown medium-grain in the state, but its market-share is tiny. This year, Bengal was grown on just 17,770 acres in the state — roughly 4 percent of total rice acres.

Perhaps because of the shortage of acres, a number of millers paid a premium for Bengal in 2003 to meet market demand from rice cereal manufacturers and other food processors who value medium-grain rice.

Rice breeder Xueyan Sha, who works at the LSU AgCenter's Rice Research Station in Crowley, said his goal over the next two to three years is to develop and release a new medium-grain rice that yields better than Bengal.

He said the medium-grains on the market today have some problems. Bengal has been hurt by disease pressure in recent years, particularly by blast, a disease caused by a fungus that can cause dramatic yield losses. Diamond-shaped lesions develop on the rice plant, and as a result, its panicles never fill with grain.

Earl, another medium-grain released in the late 1990s, has some lodging problems, Sha said.

One promising medium-grain still in the lab is known as LA 2183. In tests, the new variety matures in the field a little bit earlier than Bengal, mills as good or better and has a significantly higher yield.

The new variety also is a shorter plant, like Bengal, and is less likely to have lodging or wind damage problems, Sha said.

“We're probably going to look at it closely and send some samples to mills” (and to cereal manufacturers) for evaluation, he said.

Sha said he also is evaluating dozens of other medium-grain experimental lines in preliminary tests, and several appear to have better yield potential than even the new LA 2183.

“We're working hard on this — and we do have some promising ones,” Sha said. “Hopefully, we'll get something out to (farmers) for 2005 or 2006.”

Linscombe said Clearfield 161's acknowledged success this year in controlling red rice also could be just the beginning. Linscombe said he is about to evaluate a couple of other Clearfield lines in Puerto Rico at the Rice Winter Nursery there, which helps speed the development of new types of rice. A couple of new experimental Clearfield lines were to be planted in Puerto Rico in early October, he said.

“We have two experimental lines that have looked promising in tests over a two- or three-year period of time, and we made the decision to take those two lines to Puerto Rico for a limited seed increase,” Linscombe said.

Early indications are the two new lines have favorable characteristics compared to Clearfield 161 — namely, they seem to mature a little earlier, have more lodging resistance and perhaps some yield advantages, Linscombe said.

Rice breeding research at the LSU AgCenter's Rice Research Station and at off-station testing locations is supported by farmers' check-off funds provided through the Louisiana Rice Research Board.


Randy McClain (225-578-2263 or ramcclain@agcenter.lsu.edu) writes for the LSU AgCenter.