One of the biggest percentage declines – 20 to 35 percent – could occur in Louisiana where weather and the loss of a marketing premium have put growers in dire financial straits.

Louisiana’s acreage could drop by 100,000 acres, or 20 percent, in 2003 and “and that’s a conservative estimate,” said Johnny Saichuk, Louisiana Extension rice specialist. “I’ve heard as high as 35 percent. We need to see what’s going to going on with financing and what the programs are going to be in the spring.”

In 2002, fall rains delayed harvest in central and north Louisiana, Saichuk said. Late rains also claimed 70 percent of the state’s 100,000 acre-ratoon crop.

“This is the first year I’ve really sense fear in some of our growers,” Saichuk said.

University of Arkansas economists are projecting that rice will be planted on 1.4 million acres in the state in 2003, a 7 percent decrease from last year. Growers will plant the bulk of the Arkansas crop or 1.198 million acres in long grain and 200,000 acres in medium grain.

They’re projecting a 150-bushel yield, a 5 percent increase over 2002’s average of 143 bushels.

Due to the Arkansas producers’ ability to overproduce both rice and cotton, there could be a shift toward more grain farmers in the future, according to Bobby Coats, Extension agricultural economist with the University of Arkansas.

“We will continue to have traditional rice and cotton farms. But we’re going to have more producers who are grain farmers – rice, soybeans, wheat, corn and grain sorghum. “These growers for sure will be focused on the market in terms of what they plant. This will enhance our producers ability to supply rice during times of increased demand and reduce acreage during times of low prices.”

In California, stocks of medium grain rice – and water – are down, but growers are still facing low prices.

“Given the uncertainty of water supply, wheat prices pulling in one direction and good demand pulling in the opposite direction, it’s difficult to predict acreage in 2003,” said Jack Williams, an Extension farm advisor in the Sacramento Valley. “I expect it will be down some.”

The biggest factor affecting rice acreage in 2003 is the state’s uncertain water supply. “Storage in the major reservoirs are below the average levels for this time of the year,” he says.

According to Williams, reservoirs provide about 75 percent to 80 percent of the water for rice in the Sacramento Valley. “Most of it comes from snow pack in the mountains. Currently we have just a little dusting of snow in the mountains.”

Competing crops could also play a part in planting intentions, according to Williams. “Wheat prices are higher than they’ve been in a while and a lot of wheat is going in this fall. Some of this is going on the same land as rice.”

Lenders are also worried about chronically low prices and rising costs, he said. “They are just now recognizing the cash flow problem associated with the payment schedule for the counter-cyclical payments.”

California planted a little over 80 percent of its rice acreage in medium grain varieties in 2002, according to Williams. He noted that 2002 ending stocks in the state are 41 percent lower than last year.

“Despite reasonable demand, prices are lower,” Williams added. “Excess milling capacity is also further increasing cost.”

Mississippi rice acreage may dip 15 percent to 20 percent in 2003, according to Steve Martin, Extension economist at the Delta Research and Extension Center at Stoneville, Miss.

A lot could depend on the prices of other commodities relative to rice. According to Martin, growers looking to cut overall cost of production may look at crops that provide both a cost advantage and price advantage compared to rice. Currently, those crops include soybeans and corn.

Missouri’s rice acreage has been growing steadily for several years, but might slow or drop slightly in 2003, according to Bruce Beck, Extension agronomy specialist with the, University of Missouri. “Prices are just too discouraging. We can grow soybeans, and we can grow corn.”

Texas acreage could decline 10 percent to around 185,000 acres in 2003, said Texas A&M agricultural economist David Anderson. “But it could be more. I wouldn't be surprised we had a 20 percent decline in the state.

“There’s a lot of talk about landlords pulling land away from tenants,” said Anderson. He added that some areas could experience 30 percent drops in acreage.

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