Louisiana rice farmers are keeping a close watch on the weather — hoping there is no repeat of last year's mid-season tropical storms or hurricanes that could damage their crops.
LSU AgCenter specialists said the rice harvest would begin in southwestern Louisiana late in the week of July 14-18 and stretch into mid-August for some farmers.
“I know of no one who has started cutting rice yet, but that should occur over the next week to 10 days,” said Johnny Saichuk, rice specialist with the LSU AgCenter's Rice Research Station in Crowley, La.
Saichuk gave similar reports at three parishwide rice field days in Acadia Parish, Jefferson Davis Parish, and Vermilion Parish.
One new trend in rice fields is the growing acceptance of Clearfield 161, rice variety from the LSU AgCenter that can be used in combination with BASF's NewPath herbicide to control red rice.
Clearfield 161 and well-timed applications of NewPath are proving to be a good combination to control red rice weed problems — long a major threat to southwestern Louisiana rice production — according to the experts.
Steve Linscombe, the LSU AgCenter's chief rice breeder and its regional director for southwest Louisiana, estimates 30,000 acres of Clearfield 161 were planted in the state this season.
Linscombe and others say red rice control in well-managed fields has been 99 percent or more.
Clearfield 161 is highly resistant to the NewPath herbicide, which allows farmers to spray the BASF chemical on their fields to kill red rice without harming the good rice or its yields. Several LSU AgCenter observers think the Clearfield system is catching on and more farmers will plant the new rice variety in 2004.
“You have a lot of people sitting back waiting to see what happens this year,” said Eddie Eskew, county Extension agent in Jefferson Davis Parish. “It could easily double or triple next year. I am sold on this technology.”
Linscombe said Clearfield 161 has had much greater success so far this year compared to earlier varieties (Clearfield 121 and 141) that weren't as resistant to the NewPath herbicide. The high resistance of Clearfield 161 allows the NewPath to be applied to rice fields, usually in two equal doses roughly two weeks apart, after young rice plants have emerged from the soil.
NewPath works best in fields that “are kept a little damp where you let water help with red rice control,” Linscombe added. “The 161 line has really added to our ability to control red rice. We're learning how to manage the NewPath system.”
Much of the work to develop the Clearfield system was funded by the Louisiana Rice Research Board, which annually funds many of the rice research projects conducted by LSU AgCenter scientists. The money comes from Louisiana rice farmers who pay checkoff funds based on the amount of rice they produce.
Last year, farmers typically were advised to apply one treatment of NewPath on fields before rice plants emerged from the soil. But Ron Strahan, an LSU AgCenter weed specialist, said there were too many control failures with that approach.
As for the future, Saichuk said Clearfield 161 isn't the final destination in red rice control, but it is a big step forward. The LSU AgCenter expert said gains still need to be made in establishing a Clearfield variety with better resistance to rice diseases, including sheath blight.
Developing superior Clearfield varieties is a major objective of the rice breeding program at the LSU AgCenter's Rice Research Station at Crowley, Linscombe said.
Red rice is an aggressive weed that has long been a severe problem in southwestern Louisiana rice fields. It competes with the good rice for nutrients and can infest fields for decades. Red rice typically grows taller than good rice plants and feels prickly to the touch.
In other news from the field days, experts said Louisiana's soybean harvest looks promising in central and northern Louisiana, but it will be dismal farther south.
LSU AgCenter soybean specialist David Lanclos told Acadia Parish farmers that dry weather early this summer followed by unrelenting rain of up to 1.5 inches per day in late June and early July severely damaged most of the soybean crops in southwestern and southeastern Louisiana.
But the soybean story in central and northern Louisiana has those farmers smiling, he said.
“North of Cheneyville (in central Louisiana) you can draw a line across the state, and those are some of the best-looking soybeans we've ever seen,” Lanclos said.
The LSU AgCenter soybean specialist said he expects 2003 statewide soybean acreage to surpass the 770,000 acres of soybeans planted in 2002. But a final tally won't be known for a few more weeks.
One complicating factor is that many farmers planted soybeans late in June, and a few were still planting a crop during the second week of July, Lanclos said, acknowledging that it may be difficult to have a successful harvest with beans planted after July 1.
Late-planted soybeans often have problems with insects, especially stink bugs, because the late soybeans typically are the only green plants left by late summer, and insects feast on them and create problems for farmers.
“The rule of thumb is that you lose a quarter- to a half-bushel per acre in yield for every day after July 1 that you plant,” Lanclos said.
Randy McClain is a writer for the LSU AgCenter. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org