The tell-tale signs of diseased rice could be seen from the road at the LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station Field Day held June 28, with several plots showing sterile panicles that will produce little or no grain.

“We have one of the worst blast epidemics I’ve seen in years,” said Don Groth, LSU AgCenter plant pathologist.

Blast, a fungal disease, starts on the leaves of the plant then works its way up the stalk to deliver a knock-out punch. Everything above the infection site on the panicle will be sterile, according to Steve Linscombe, rice breeder and station director.

Groth said the blast outbreak could require two applications of the fungicide Quadris, at boot and heading stages, to achieve 80 percent control on very susceptible varieties. Blast has probably been worse this year because of the mild winter that allowed volunteer rice to grow, similar to the conditions that led to a bad outbreak of Cercospora disease in 2006.

Linscombe said the blast epidemic will have a long-term benefit, helping in the effort to obtain disease resistance in new variety development. 

Two popular varieties, CL151 and CL261, have proven to be very susceptible to blast and could require two fungicide applications.

On the other hand, CL111 has proven to be more resistant than it was rated. Catahoula is highly resistant, Linscombe said, and a new long grain variety, Mermentau, is moderately susceptible. Three hybrid lines developed at the station are showing good resistance to the disease.

Tim Walker, Mississippi State University rice breeder, said only 100,000 acres of rice was planted in Mississippi this year, less than half the usual amount. Blast has not been a big problem there.

Groth said the new fungicide, Sercadis, is working well against sheath blight that had become resistant to other fungicides.

Mike Salassi, LSU AgCenter economist, told the gathering that rice prices are showing improvements and it is possible that long-grain prices could increase to $15 per hundredweight and medium-grain to $17-18 per hundredweight.

Mike Stout, LSU AgCenter entomologist, said the seed treatment Dermacor has been approved for water-seeded rice in Louisiana. Stout, the interim Extension entomologist, also said an increasing number of Mexican rice borer moths have been found in sampling traps in Calcasieu Parish.

Two LSU AgCenter researchers, Jim Oard, a rice geneticist, and Herry Utomo, a molecular biologist, talked about their work to use DNA markers to identify desired characteristics in rice, such as disease resistance and grain quality, to assist with the breeding process.

Dustin Harrell, LSU AgCenter agronomist, talked about using products to prevent volitazation losses of nitrogen fertilizers. The products N-Fixx and Arborite AG show potential as competitors with the long-established product, Agrotain.

David Weindorf, LSU AgCenter soil scientist, showed profiles of the Crowley silt loam soil. He said laser-leveling will often uncover deeper soil with higher acid levels that will interfere with the uptake of nutrients such as zinc.

Jay Grymes, retired LSU AgCenter climatologist, said a drought is developing again in north and southwest Louisiana. The first half of 2012 was the warmest first six months of any year on record and heat probably will continue as an El Nino warm phase builds over the Pacific Ocean.

Sammy King of the U.S. Geological Survey described the project to re-introduce the whooping cranes to coastal Louisiana. The project, a joint effort between the LSU AgCenter, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, has 16 birds that are being monitored. Some of the birds have left White Lake, and they have been seen on private property.

“We’ve had tremendous support from landowners,” said King, who advised that the observers of the birds should stay 200 feet away.

Mike Strain, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, talked about the Master Rice Grower Program developed by the LSU AgCenter and the Kellogg Co. The AgCenter Master Farmer program is an integral part of this endeavor. 

The voluntary program can be used to prevent intrusive environmental regulations.

“The next step is we’ll use this for other commodities,” Strain said. “Let us use this as a model for America. Farmers are the solution and cannot be the target.”

Bill Richardson, LSU AgCenter chancellor, said sound science should guide policy, and the Louisiana Master Farmer Program can help farmers avoid environmental conflicts. “We are all interested in protecting our environment as best we can.”

Xueyan Sha, LSU AgCenter rice breeder, discussed his work on the development of hybrids, long-grain varieties and specialty rice.The hybrid project is making good progress with six lines in multi-location trials. A Basmati line of rice has good characteristics and excellent aroma, but no one has shown interest in it that could prompt a release of it as a variety.

Sha said two Clearfield Jazzman lines are showing good yield potential.

A large buyer of Jazzman rice, the Jazzmen Rice of New Orleans, brought more than 20 chefs to the field day. Nina Camacho of Jazzmen Rice said the chefs were from New Orleans, Lafayette and New Iberia.“They’ve never been to a rice field. All they’ve known is rice comes in a bag.”

After the field day, the Louisiana Rice Research Board met and re-elected Branch farmer Jackie Loewer as chairman and farmer Clarence Berken of Lake Arthur as vice chairman. Richard Fontenot and Evangeline Parish producer was re-elected as secretary-treasurer.

Following the field tours, Loewer said this year’s successful check-off referendum held in January signifies farmers’ commitment to research. He also said the free trade agreement with Colombia will result in at least $500,000 in funds dedicated for rice research in Louisiana.

Loewer also recognized former board members Wayne Wild of Crowley and Johnny Boudreaux of Abbeville with plaques for their service.