A representative of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service at the LSU AgCenter’s Vermilion Parish rice field day on July 13 told farmers about a new program that could compensate them for agricultural practices that provide habitat to wildlife.

Scott Edwards of the NRCS said the program could pay farmers for creating mud flats in their fields, pumping water onto fields and holding water. It would pay farmers for measures that are beneficial to waterfowl and other water birds.

Johnny Saichuk, LSU AgCenter rice specialist, said St. Martin Parish rice grower Jeff Durand brought up the proposal. The LSU AgCenter helped provide details to the NRCS for the proposal, Saichuk said, and the study, partially funded by check-off funds paid Louisiana rice farmers, was used as the basis for the program.

LSU AgCenter regional director Steve Linscombe said the AgCenter started working on the project about two years ago.

“This initiative would not have come about without the diligence and perseverance of many people, including, but not limited to, Johnny Saichuk, Ernest Girouard and Jeff Durand, former chairman of the Louisiana Rice Growers Association," Linscombe said.

“Now you will be able to get compensation for practices beneficial to many different species of water birds,” Edwards said. He said farmers can sign up for the program through Aug. 20.

This program is not the same one that will pay farmers to take steps to flood fields for waterfowl habitat this year only in response to the BP oil spill’s threat to the coastal overwintering area for migratory birds, he explained.

“Rice and crawfish farms are a major part of Louisiana’s coastal landscape,” said Kevin Norton, state conservationist for the NRCS. “The same fields used to produce crops also support migrant and resident water birds. The Working Wetlands CCPI will help landowners improve their fields to meet life cycle requirements of these birds.”

Also at the field day, Ron Levy, LSU AgCenter soybean specialist, said south Louisiana rice farmers should consider soybeans for rotation, even though the crop can be difficult to grow in the area’s wet conditions.

Levy said prices for soybeans are good now, exceeding $9 a bushel. Farmers still come out ahead in south Louisiana because of soybeans’ beneficial effects on the soil.

“Even if you break even, you come out ahead because you’ve added nitrogen to the soil,” he said.

Levy said estimates for input costs to grow soybeans range from $220 to $300 per acre. He said soybeans require well-drained soil, but making raised beds in rice fields is too expensive for most farmers. As an alternative, Levy recommended considering furrows that could be cut between rows.

Levy said later-planted soybeans require a higher seeding rate.

Dustin Harrell, LSU AgCenter agronomist, said zinc-deficient soil leads to bronzing of rice plants. Farmers should look for the problem early, he said.

Linscombe and Xueyan Sha, LSU AgCenter rice breeders, gave an overview of potential varieties being tested in research plots.

Ron Sheffield, LSU AgCenter agricultural engineer, told farmers about a program by the LSU AgCenter and the NRCS to analyze water wells for efficiency.

LSU AgCenter economist Mike Salassi said rice prices are not expected to increase soon. Current prices at $11 per hundredweight, or $18 per barrel, could decline to $9-$10 per hundredweight or $14-$16 per barrel.

He said all rice-growing states except California are growing more rice this year.