Rice farmers could be facing challenges in the marketplace this year, but the outlook is countered by positive news, according to an LSU AgCenter economist.

“For the short-term, there are some factors that could help support current prices and possibly provide some boost to prices,” said Kurt Guidry at the LSU AgCenter Rice Clinic held in Bunkie, La.

However, in the long-term, the market will have to deal with ending stocks projected at 42.8 million hundredweight, up nearly 41 percent from the previous year, to keep prices from coming under pressure, Guidry said.

Some of the positive factors currently being discussed in the market are reduced production in India and Brazil and a recent rice sale to Iraq.

The Iraq sale should provide some activity in the rice market over the next month or so, Guidry said. “And there are rumors that Iraq could soon be back in the U.S. market to purchase additional rice.”

Guidry said re-opening this historically large market for U.S. rice would definitely be positive. Recent attempts to loosen restrictions are positive signs, however, “I wouldn’t bet on it as a major factor in projecting the direction of this market,” he said.

Current U.S. rice prices are fairly competitive with major export competitors, Guidry said, and that is believed to be, at least partly, attributable to large rice purchases by the Philippines government at the end of 2009.

Guidry said it’s possible that U.S. rice acreage will increase slightly in 2010.

He said input costs will be increasing, with diesel expected to hit $3 a gallon. And fertilizer is likely to be somewhat more expensive than last year because of an anticipated increase in corn acreage.

Growers also heard from several LSU AgCenter experts on growing the upcoming year’s crop.

Steve Linscombe, LSU AgCenter rice breeder, said the rice variety CL151, developed at the LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station, was the predominant variety grown in Louisiana last year. He said the variety can have a problem with lodging, but that could be reduced with a lower fertilizer rate. Reducing the seeding rate to 60 pounds per acre also would lessen the tendency to lodge.

Linscombe said he expects fewer acres will be planted in medium-grain varieties.

Two new Clearfield varieties, both developed by the LSU AgCenter, will be available on a limited basis, Linscombe said.

CL111 will be available this year, he said. “It does not yield quite as well as CL151, but it is six to eight days earlier.”

Also ready for farmers is the first Clearfield medium-grain variety, CL261. “We put this on a fast track because there was a lot of interest to get a medium-grain Clearfield,” Linscombe said.

He also said two new Clearfield varieties developed by the University of Arkansas, CL181 and CL142, have shown promise in plots.

Xueyan Sha, an LSU AgCenter rice breeder, said the new LSU AgCenter aromatic variety Jazzman was grown on 600 acres last year. He said an experimental line, LA2149, is showing potential for strong aroma with earlier maturity and shorter plant height compared with Jazzman.

Rice farmers can use chicken litter in the spring before planting, said Dustin Harrell, an LSU AgCenter agronomist. “The later you put it out, the better.”

But he advised that the soil amendment could result in more weeds because of the boost in soil fertility.

Natalie Hummel, an LSU AgCenter entomologist, said farmers will have a new chemical to combat rice water weevils. A seed treatment, Cruiser, will be available and will have activity against chinch bugs and the colaspis insect, she said.

Hummel reviewed tests of insecticides in 2009, concluding that Dermacor worked best, followed by Karate, Mustang and Trebon. She said the testing will continue in 2010.

Eric Webster, an LSU AgCenter weed scientist, advised farmers to apply herbicides to small, actively growing weeds. He said farmers should apply burndown herbicides three to four weeks before planting.

Webster warned that red rice outcrossing is becoming more possible. “If you suspect red rice outcrossing or if hybrid Clearfield rice is grown, it is best to rotate out of rice for at least two years,” he said.

Johnny Saichuk, LSU AgCenter rice specialist, said Clearfield rice was grown on almost two-thirds of Louisiana’s rice crop of 456,000 acres in 2009. He said that could reach 70 percent this year and expressed concern because of the potential for red rice outcrossing.

Saichuk, who oversees the LSU AgCenter’s rice verification program, said he has noticed a common thread among the more successful producers. “The biggest thing I have seen is getting things done on time.”

e-mail: bschultz@agcenter.lsu.edu