As Louisiana producers continue early-season planting, medium-grain rice varieties are in short supply. “We’re looking at a substantial medium-grain price and have quite a few medium-grain contracts out,” said Steve Linscombe, LSU AgCenter rice breeder and regional director for southwestern Louisiana, during the third week of March. “Of course, there are a lot of questions, including where long-grain prices will shake out. A lot of knowledgeable people say long-grain prices won’t be anywhere near what growers were getting last year.”

Meanwhile, many growers who haven’t grown medium-grain varieties in many years are again looking at them favorably.

“There’s a lot of interest in medium-grain,” says Linscombe, who is based at the Rice Research Station in Crowley, La. “Those who typically grow a little medium-grain are growing more. How much total medium-grain acreage we’ll end up with is still tough to call. But it’ll be considerably more than we’ve had in the last few years.”

As for seed availability, medium-grains are “tight. We’d probably plant more acreage if the seed wasn’t an issue. But I don’t think the seed tightness (in Louisiana) is as severe as in Arkansas.”

Even so, just like Arkansas agriculture officials, Linscombe is warning producers against importing medium-grain seed from California (for more, see: http://deltafarmpress.com/news/medium-grain-0305/).

“I think bringing California medium-grains into Louisiana would be a disaster for two reasons. First, most California medium-grains grown here would be a disease nursery. Most of those varieties are very susceptible to the Mid-South races of blast. Yield potential of those varieties here isn’t nearly what it is in California.”

Second — and “probably even more critical” — is bakanae, a seed-borne disease in California that isn’t yet in the Mid-South.

“If we want another disease to deal with in this region, bringing in California medium-grain seed is one way to accomplish it. Thankfully, most of our producers are well aware that the California varieties won’t perform here as well as they need to. We hit on that regularly at field days.”

New varieties

As usual, Linscombe and colleagues are working diligently to provide new rice varieties. In 2009, the fruit of their labor includes a new aromatic variety, Jazzman, which was recently released. Also, several new Clearfield varieties are late in the pipeline.

“Jazzman is being grown as foundation seed for the first time this year. The variety is a type of jasmine rice, very similar to the imported Thai jasmine rice. It has aroma, appearance, cooking and taste characteristics very similar to imported Thai jasmine rice.”

Jazzman was developed by Xueyan Sha, one of the breeders at the Crowley station.

“We’re not claiming Jazzman is identical to the imported Thai jasmine, but it’s a dramatic improvement over Jasmine 85, an older variety that was the only Jasmine-type previously available here. There is a lot of interest in Jazzman in the state. More than one entity is very interested in taking this and, hopefully, using it to compete with imported Thai jasmine and, maybe even more importantly, develop new markets.”

Jazzman seed is extremely limited this year. “I believe just over 300 hundredweights of foundation seed were available. That will go to seed production with some also in commercial production.”

There are also several new Clearfield lines in development. If it is released, one of them will likely be designated CL111.

“It’s a very early variety — perhaps as much as a week earlier than CL151 and CL131, which are both fairly early themselves. It has very good yield potential, good milling quality and grain appearance.”

CL111 is susceptible to sheath blight but appears to be fairly resistant to most of the other major diseases.

“We did have a limited amount of seed production on the station last year. We’ve also got a seed increase on that line in Puerto Rico that will likely be harvested in the next month and brought back. I think there will an effort to spread that rice around, plant it at low seeding rates to get as much seed production as we can. It might actually be available to farmers in a limited capacity in 2010.”

The second Clearfield variety Louisiana rice breeders are looking at is a medium-grain.

“It’s kind of ironic that there’s a big discussion on medium-grains right now, and this one is coming along. We’re hoping this line will be the first Clearfield medium-grain. It’s another one with good yield potential that seems to be similar to Neptune, which has a bit bolder grain and everyone seems to prefer.”

There is a very limited seed increase with the medium-grain. “A 2,000-row increase on the line in Puerto Rico should be harvested in the next couple of months, brought back and spread out pretty thin.”

Linscombe is unsure how long the current push for medium-grain rice will last. However, “California is looking at some serious water issues that lead to rice acreage being curtailed significantly for the future. That isn’t good for them, but it may be an opportunity for Mid-South growers and could mean the medium-grain situation here will remain hot.”

e-mail: dbennett@farmpress.com