Crawfish and rice might seem like a natural fit, but the two agricultural endeavors sometimes conflict, farmers learned at a recemt LSU AgCenter Master Farmer Field Day held at Coteau Holmes, La.

“It's a balancing act,” said Jeff Durand, who farms 900 acres of rice and close to 950 acres of crawfish with his brothers Edgar, Gregory and C.J.

Raising crawfish probably worsens aquatic weed infestations, Durand said, and more fertilizer for rice also is required because of crawfish production.

About the only way to combat rice water weevils is draining an afflicted field, he said, explaining that insecticides can't be used on fields that will be used for crawfish.

When rice is grown in a field previously used for crawfish, Durand said, it's not unusual for crawfish to feed on the seed.

The Durand brothers also said they have “a devil of a time” with birds feeding on crawfish. Pelicans, ducks and coots congregate at the farm to feast on its crawfish, Durand said.

Wildlife biologists counted 30,000 coots one day at the farm, but they were not convinced the birds feed on anything but vegetation, Durand said. A few hours of surveillance convinced them otherwise.

Since the coot invasion was during duck season, regular hunts were organized to reduce the coot population. In seven hunts, 300 hunters participated.

“Every hunter had his 15-bird limit,” Durand said. “The next day, we still had 30,000 birds.”

The Durand brothers have tried airboats, big lights and air cannons, all to no avail. Biologists came to the farm and placed radio collars on a handful of coots. “The next year, they all returned,” he said.

Ducks and coots also forage on rice seed, causing losses of 5 to 10 acres a year, Durand said.

Model farm

The Durand farm has been designated as a Model Farm by the LSU AgCenter. The designation is part of the Louisiana Master Farmer Program.

The Louisiana Master Farmer program is an environmental education program designed to help farmers and ranchers identify and adopt best management practices. It is intended to help them address environmental concerns, such as water quality, while maximizing their potential productivity.

Model farm visits are vital for the 2,300 participating farmers to complete the second phase of the program toward certification, and the field day at the Durand farm was part of that process.

Donna Morgan, LSU AgCenter Model Farm coordinator, said the conservation practices used by the Durands result in samples from monitoring stations that have met water quality standards.

In fact, she said, water discharged from the Durand farm is cleaner than water in surrounding canals.

A stripper header is used for harvesting rice, and the result is less straw on the ground to decompose and degrade water quality for crawfish, Jeff Durand said.

Durand said the number of levees has been reduced on the farm, resulting in fields as large as 85 acres each but averaging 40 acres.

The typical strategy on the Durand farm is to grow rice in a field for three to four years and then to follow it with crawfish.

The Durands usually water-seed their crop, but they have the option of drill-seeding without tilling. In fact, fields often go two to three years without tilling, and that can save up to $75 an acre, Durand said. By plowing a minimum amount, more topsoil and organic matter remain in place.

Durand said soybeans have been planted to develop organic matter for rice, but if prices are good and the crop succeeds, the beans will be harvested. Last year, Austrian winter peas were planted for organic material, he said.

Saves money

He said the farm has saved money by using a high-pressure air system to dry rice instead of heating the grain. Milling quality also improved, he said. “We've been doing it for six years, and we're pretty comfortable with it,” he said.

The Louisiana Master Farmer Program involves three phases. The first is an intensive classroom-style educational program on a variety of topics. Then come the field tours of farms where conservation practices have been implemented. Finally, Master Farmer candidates are required to develop and implement a comprehensive conservation plan on their own farms.