Asked for a 2006 Louisiana rice acreage projection, Steve Linscombe is reluctant to provide hard numbers. “We've got all kinds of things going on — difficulties with cash-flow, difficulties with bank loans, the uncertainty about much of the land inundated with the Hurricane Rita storm surge, and other things,” says the LSU rice breeder stationed in Crowley, La. “Acreage is very tough to calculate.”
If pushed, Linscombe believes acreage will be down at least 20 percent, perhaps as much as 30 percent. “We were at 528,000 acres last year. Taking 20 percent off that, this year's rice acreage will be closer to 400,000. Right now, though, the jury is still out.”
Last fall, shortly after Rita pushed seawater inland, researchers were in rice fields pulling soil samples. In selected areas, follow-up samples have also been taken. For many rice producers the results weren't good — salty soils abound.
And the lack of rainfall since has done south Louisiana producers no favors.
“What we need to remediate those soils is a lot of rainfall. That's the only real solution. Unfortunately, what we've had is below-average rainfall since the hurricanes hit. It isn't the lowest on record, but it's below average.
“In fact, there's been so little rain we've got a lot of saltwater remaining, standing, in the state's rice production area. The rain hasn't been able to push that saltwater south back to the gulf.”
Another dose of bad news: The area that took the storm surge mostly relies on surface water for irrigation. That means even in areas where salinity isn't high enough to keep from planting rice, many producers won't be able to because irrigation water is too salty.
“How's that for bad luck?”
Have producers tried to rid fields of salt by flushing?
“There have been a few. But, remember, the irrigation source is high-salinity surface water. Only a few producers have deep wells in that area — some of them have made a few attempts to flush fields.
“But the other issue in flushing fields is the price of diesel. Producers who want to flush are in a Catch-22. Is it good economics to run a deep well to flush when there's no guarantee of success? Is it worth it to spend all this money when you don't know a rice crop will even be able to go in?”
For those able to plant, recent weather has been favorable — upper 70s to low 80s with a forecast calling for the same.
“Here at the (Crowley Rice) Research Station, we planted about 15 acres of research plots on (March 7 and 8). We also planted one of our off-station locations.”
A planting-date study was put in on Feb. 23. “That's one of our ‘too early’ plots. We want to check plots planted a bit earlier than recommended planting dates. With the weather we've seen thus far, those plots look very good and are growing off quite well. I was there earlier today and we've got 2-inch tall rice.”
While there may be no brand new, hot varieties, there is much interest in Clearfield 131. “CL131 will be tried on a bunch of acres this year. Seed is readily available. We're very interested to see how this new Clearfield performs on a bunch of acres.”
This year, Louisiana has applied for two Section 18s. Both are for insecticides to control rice water weevil.
“We applied for carbofuran,” says Linscombe. “We also applied for etofenprox, a new material that hasn't been registered for rice in the United States.”
Justification for the Section 18s centers on southwest Louisiana producers who grow rice and crawfish, “often just across the turn-row from each other. The only real products labeled for rice water weevil control are liquids that are extremely toxic to crawfish.
“The problem we've run into over the last few years, primarily through pyrethroid use, is spraying rice fields and getting drift into an adjacent crawfish pond. That can cause substantial crawfish mortality.”
Both carbofuran and etofenprox can be applied as granules and should minimize drift problems.
When will an EPA ruling come down?
“Who knows if we'll even get either material approved — it's in the EPA's hands. We haven't had any indication when an answer might come. We need to know soon, though. We're planting rice currently and the need for rice water weevil insecticides will be upon us shortly.”