BUNKIE, La. – This year’s planting of rice in Louisiana could exceed 500,000 acres, according to an LSU AgCenter economist.

Gene Johnson told farmers from Avoyelles and Rapides parishes who attended a rice clinic in Bunkie that good rice prices – as high as $9 per hundredweight – will prompt many farmers to increase acreage.

"I think our price will remain firm through this year," Johnson said during last week’s meeting.

Louisiana farmers planted 540,000 acres in rice in 2002. But with low prices in 2003, the acreage slipped to 470,000 acres –the largest decline among the six southern and western rice-growing states.

Johnson said strong prices also are remaining steady for corn, cotton and soybeans.

Regarding the rice, Johnny Saichuk, LSU AgCenter rice specialist, said as many as 100,000 acres may be planted in the new Clearfield 161, a variety of rice developed at the LSU AgCenter’s Rice Research Station in Crowley that allows the crop to be sprayed with Newpath herbicide to kill red rice.

Saichuk advised two applications of the Newpath herbicide as close as possible within a 14-day period.

Saichuk said Clearfield also can decrease the amount of water required to grow rice. He said because Clearfield allows fields to be flooded later than usual, rice water weevil larvae are killed in the dried earth. Once the field is flooded, he said, Clearfield plants will mature enough that any larva surviving the dried conditions will have less of an impact.

But the LSU AgCenter expert also cautioned it’s important not to use Clearfield for two consecutive years in a field. It’s best to rotate with soybeans, preferably the Roundup Ready variety, or corn, he said, but not Clearfield corn. A field can also be put into pasture, he said, but it should not be left fallow without maintenance.

Farmers should wait for 18 months before planting conventional rice in a field where Clearfield has been used, he said.

On another note, Saichuk said applying lime to rice fields was once considered a bad idea.

"I’m not afraid to apply lime anymore," he said. "I used to be."

The specialist said application of lime is a good choice for soil with a ph of less than 5. If the crop yellows, he said zinc can be applied.

Saichuk also cautioned farmers that removing all straw from a rice crop requires replenishing potassium in the soil.

Burning the straw doesn’t remove potassium, he said, but baling straw or raising crawfish on rice fields will deplete a valuable potassium source.

During the day, farmers also got some precautions on an insect pest – the Mexican rice borer that is now being found in southeastern Texas.

Boris Castro, an LSU AgCenter entomologist, said the Mexican rice borer larvae can decrease yields by as much as 50 percent.

"We don’t have it here yet, but it’s moving in this direction," Castro said.

Insecticides are effective against the borer, Castro said, but they must be applied before the insects attack the stalk. Once the pests enter the stalk, "there is nothing you can do," he stressed.

Meanwhile, the LSU AgCenter entomologist said the European corn borer seems to be migrating from the north toward Louisiana, although it doesn’t appear to be as adapted to humid conditions as the Mexican corn borer.

Rice farmers in Louisiana already have to contend with the sugarcane borer and the rice stalk borer.

Carlos Smith, LSU AgCenter horticulturist in Avoyelles Parish, said the Mexican borers thrive in ornamental grasses, and he fears the insect will be inadvertently introduced into Louisiana in plants sold to large retailers.

The insecticides for borers can’t be used on the borers in fields also used for crawfish farming, Castro said, but research is under way to develop new chemistry to kill borers but not affect crawfish.

Bruce Schultz is a writer for the LSU AgCenter.

e-mail: bschultz@agcenter.lsu.edu