Once again, weather robbed Mid-South rice producers of what could have been an excellent 2010 rice crop — this time excessive heat doing a number on it. But most rice producers remained optimistic as they discussed the past season and prospects for the next one, during the USA Rice Outlook Conference in Biloxi, Miss.
Louisiana Extension rice specialist Johnny Saichuk said high temperatures impacted yield for many of the state’s producers. “A lot of farmers who planted rice early started out harvesting good yields. As they got into the late rice that was flowering during the heat, the yields fell off dramatically, like going over a cliff. What started out to be a good crop fell off.”
The Louisiana rice crop could still be profitable, “depending on how producers market their crops,” Saichuk said. “Growers who had to sell green rice got hurt. Those with storage were able to take advantage of the recovery in rice prices later.”
Saichuk says Louisiana rice producers are hanging tough. “We’ve been through hurricanes and everything else and have managed to stay with it. But in Vermillion Parish, we used to plant between 80,000 to 100,000 acres. Now we’re down to between 40,000 acres and 60,000 acres. Some areas have taken a big hit.”
Saichuk says the state’s ratoon crop “would have been fantastic had prices been better at harvest. “Farmers didn’t want to put a lot of money into a second crop. Some didn’t fertilize, some didn’t even flood. They were able to harvest 4 to 5 barrels per acre without putting much into it. (A barrel is 147.6 pounds). Those who did put money into the crop made up to 20 barrels per acre on the ratoon crop.”
Joe Rennicke, rice producer from Stuttgart, Ark., said his rice crop “looked pretty good during the growing season. But the results were less than expected due to the higher temperatures. The quality was off dramatically.”
Rennicke says selling the crop won’t be a problem,” but it could have a long tail. The amount of brokens that are going to be in the market could have a detrimental bearing on future sales.”
Rennicke plans to keep his rice acreage at current levels for 2011, “and we may expand a little bit. Every farmer is different. I don’t have a very good soybean farm, so we’ll expand rice. But I think you’ll see a lot of rice producers in areas with more diversity moving to soybeans, corn and cotton.”
Michael Hensgens with G&H Seed, Crowley, La., believes south Louisiana rice producers will likely maintain acres in 2011, while other rice-producing states will probably lose some rice acres in response to good soybean, corn, wheat and cotton prices, “so we think with the opportunity for stocks to be reduced.”
Hensgens said the state’s ratoon crop “helped a lot of farmers’ finances. “We’ll take it.”
Great prospects turn to disappointments
Tunica, Miss., rice producer Nolen Canon characterized the season as “average to slightly below-average. It was a real challenging year. We had a lot of high temperatures. We started out with great prospects, but were disappointed in the fall, when the crop came in. Mother Nature has a way of humbling you at times.”
Despite the drop in yields, Canon says area rice producers remain optimistic for the upcoming crop. “We couldn’t stay in this business if we weren’t. I’m going to stick with my usual acreage and rotation. But I look for there to be less rice in the Delta. I look for some to shift out of rice into some other crops.”
Canon says the uncertainty over the next farm is a big issue for U.S. rice producers. “We need to provide a safety net for all of agriculture. We have lots of good technologies coming our way and lots of new varieties.
“We also have to be careful to protect our Clearfield system. There’s not a lot of new weed technology on the horizon.”
“Being the optimist that the farmer is, we were hoping for better,” said Avon, Miss., rice producer Marvin Cochran. “But we all knew in August what was going to happen when we had those hot nights. You put your boots on and it was 80 degrees already.”
Cochran says his yields were off about 12 bushels per acre. “It was a challenging year, so we need to get to about $6 to $6.50 a bushel, and everything will be all right.”
Cochran said rice dried down very quickly in the August and early September heat. “Rice was going from 18 percent moisture on Monday to 12.5 percent the following Friday. That’s not good for quality.”
He’s keeping last season, and this season, in perspective though.
“If you treat farming as a business, it’s a great way of life, but if you treat farming as a way of life, it’s a horrible business. It has its challenges and bright sides. I enjoy working the land, and being a steward of the land, raising my children in the country where we can see God’s sun rise every morning and smile.”
Stuttgart, Ark., rice producer Ray Vester said 117 days of 90-degree temperatures, plus high nighttime temperatures took a toll on yield. “My yields were off 11 bushels an acre which compared to a lot of my neighbors wasn’t very bad at all. Milling quality was about 3.5 percent below average, and I’ve always been above average. The combination of the two resulted in a gross income loss of $100 an acre. That’s been the devastating part of it.”
Irrigation costs were extremely high for Vester. “From the end of May until the end of November, we didn’t have but a 1.08 inches of rainfall. Our costs are up for irrigation and fuel. The Prairie is going to lose some farmers. The previous year, we had an extremely wet year and we had losses from that. Those two combined are going to cost a lot of farmers.”
Vester prefers to look on the bright side for the upcoming season. “I’ve been very blessed. Miracles happen in my life every day. I firmly believe that, and that is what has sustained me. Not to say that God is mad at other people. But that’s what happens in agriculture.”