Louisiana rice farmers are wrapping up their planting season, marked by heavy rainfall in some areas and warm temperatures.

Steve Linscombe, a rice breeder and director of the LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station, said he was able to plant his research plots at the station and on off-site locations throughout the state’s rice growing area earlier than ever. And it was all drill-seeded.

Some farmers may not have had the same luck because they received heavier rainfall that took longer to drain from their fields, Linscombe said. “It all depended on exactly where you are.”

More acreage was water-seeded this year than last, and that was because of a decline in the use of Clearfield varieties and higher-than-usual rainfall amounts.

“Many farmers saw excessive amounts of rain, so they flooded up their fields and planted in the water.” Linscombe expects rice acreage to decline this year from 2011, and some of that will probably be the result of the recent, sudden spike in fertilizer prices.

LSU AgCenter rice specialist Johnny Saichuk expects rice acreage to fall to roughly 400,000 acres, down from last year’s total of 430,000. North Louisiana rice acreage will drop because farmers there have other crops that are bringing higher net returns than rice.

Overall planting has been a month behind last year. “By this time last year, we had a lot of fields at permanent flood,” said Saichuk.

Many farmers are planting fewer acres in the Clearfield system and opting for conventional varieties because of cheaper seed prices and to rotate out of Clearfield. In addition, some farmers are turning to certain conventional varieties because of premiums being offered due to superior grain quality.

Keith Fontenot, LSU AgCenter county agent in Evangeline Parish, said the rains disrupted many farmers’ plans. “They have gone to Plan B, and some are on Plan C and Plan D.”

Farmers who hadn’t planted their rice may change their minds, Fontenot said. “With the price of urea fertilizer jumping, they may go to soybeans instead.”

The rains also interfered with plans to spray for weeds.

Barrett Courville, LSU AgCenter county agent in Acadia and Jefferson Davis parishes, said the warm temperatures have promoted rapid growth. “The rice is growing really well. It’s staying ahead of the birds and insects.”

Rainfall has been inconsistent, Courville said, noting that heavy rain fell April 16 in Crowley but no rain was reported in nearby Morse.

Acadia Parish is probably more than 85 percent planted and Jefferson Davis Parish is three-fourths completed. But Courville said that’s behind last year’s planting. “Last year by April 1, we were almost done.”

Courville expects a slight acreage drop, perhaps a decline of 4,000 to 5,000 acres in each parish.

Stuart Gauthier, LSU AgCenter county agent in Vermilion Parish, said parish farmers are roughly 90 percent finished planting. The parish was not hit with heavy rains, so planting was not delayed as much as in other areas.

“Because it’s so warm, the rice crop is a couple of week ahead of schedule,” Gauthier said. “We have a lot of it at permanent flood.”

As in other parishes, more farmers chose water planting.

Gauthier expects acreage will decline slightly, although acreage in medium-grain rice will increase because of an order placed at a local mill.

But farmers are worried about the ramifications of the upcoming farm bill, high fertilizer and fuel prices and low rice prices.