U.S. rice acreage has fallen significantly, and that could affect prices.

“Every rice state with the exception of California reduced rice acreage this year,” said Mike Salassi, an LSU AgCenter economist who spoke at the Vermilion Parish rice field day on Tuesday (July 5). The USDA’s latest figures show Louisiana’s 2011 rice acreage at 420,000 acres, 120,000 acres fewer than last year.

Arkansas acreage is at 1.1 million acres, compared with 1.79 million last year, and it is the state’s lowest since 1989.

Nationwide rice acreage is 2.6 million acres, down by 960,000, Salassi said. It is only the fourth time in the past 15 years that the total is less than 3 million acres.

Prices this time last year were $17 to $20 a barrel, compared to the $20-per-barrel range now, and Salassi expects prices to increase through January. “We should have prices in the $23-a-barrel range.”

For more Louisiana field day coverage, see LSU AgCenter Rice Experiment Station continues tradition of supporting farmers, Weather reduces soybean prospects, and Weather perplexing Louisiana farmers.

Farmers at the field day saw one of the reasons Louisiana rice acreage has declined when they visited a field with high levels of salt.

Rice plants in the field southeast of Gueydan had a salt content of 4,096 parts per million, said Stuart Gauthier, LSU AgCenter county agent in Vermilion Parish. The LSU AgCenter recommends against planting rice in soils with levels exceeding 750 ppm.

Rice plants in the field were dark green, but only a few areas had produced seed heads. “It should all be headed out at this point,” Gauthier said.

The field previously had been flooded with salt water from a hurricane, but it showed no problems two years ago, Gauthier said. Then the farmer plowed and laser-leveled the field, and apparently that moved salt concentrations into the higher levels of the soil profile.

The LSU AgCenter wants to find out how salty water has affected other fields in south Louisiana, Gauthier said, and a request is going out for farmers to sample their water when fields are drained.

Chad Courville, land manager for Miami Corp., asked farmers for their support in a request to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to manipulate locks along the coast to attempt to get fresh water into the marshes. He said much of the marshland is completely dry.

The locks at Schooner Bayou and Freshwater Bayou could be manipulated, he said. “If we’re going to do this,” Courville said about approaching the Corps, “we need to do it in a unified voice.”

The Corps has agreed to coordinate operations at Catfish Locks and Calcasieu Locks to move more freshwater into the Mermentau Basin, a request that resulted from a meeting held last month by the LSU AgCenter in Lake Arthur.

At another stop, Ron Levy, LSU AgCenter soybean specialist, urged farmers to be mindful of herbicide-resistant weeds. Levy said johnsongrass and pigweed have been confirmed with resistance to glyphosate, but weeds have not been found with resistant to glufosinate, the herbicide used in Liberty Link crops.

Rice farmers should continue to use soybeans in their rotations because growing the crop helps maintain nutrients in the soil and aids in weed control, Levy said. “If you leave the land fallow, there is a big cost.”

Natalie Hummel, LSU AgCenter entomologist, discussed her study of seed treatments for rice water weevils. Hummel told farmers a study is being done to determine the effects of early planting on weevil problems.

Dustin Harrell, LSU AgCenter agronomist, is conducting a nitrogen soil test at five locations, including two in Vermilion Parish. His testing determined that some rice fields needed no added nitrogen. However, Harrell cautioned that he was uncomfortable making that recommendation.

The testing system has shown promise in test plots, Harrell said. “Does it work in a commercial field? I don’t know.”

LSU AgCenter rice breeders Xueyan Sha and Steve Linscombe outlined their rice breeding programs. Sha said a hybrid project is ongoing at the Rice Research Station, and a long-grain line has been developed with the Clearfield trait.

Some newer varieties are tolerant to sheath blight, said LSU AgCenter plant pathologist Don Groth. Yield losses are 14 to 17 percent rather than 25 to 50 percent with older varieties.

Fungicides are still needed, but the risk is less, especially with medium-grain rice varieties, Groth said. Off-station testing, such as the one conducted at the Lounsberry farm near Lake Arthur, allows screening varieties and fungicides in different environments to test consistency of results under farm conditions.