Louisiana farmers started the 2010 rice-planting season with caution, worried that wet fields might require more planting in water this year.

But fields dried out, temperatures have warmed and farmers responded by jumping in their tractors and drill-seeding much of their crop.

Warm weather in late March accelerated the amount of planting and seedling growth, said Steve Linscombe, director of the LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station at Crowley, La.

“I know quite a few people who have finished planting,” Linscombe said.

Rice plants responded favorably to current night temperatures in the 60s instead of temperatures in the 40s just a few weeks ago.

“We have really seen the rice take off,” Linscombe said.

Over half of the rice crop appears to be planted, and some areas, such as Acadia Parish, have more than 70 percent planted.

More water-seeding occurred this year because of concerns that field conditions would not be favorable for drill planting, Linscombe said. “I think a lot of people just played it safe, but we have had some fairly dry conditions in the past two to three weeks.”

More than 70 percent of the crop will be planted in Clearfield varieties and hybrids this year and Linscombe expects rice acreage in general to increase, especially in north Louisiana.

Rice doesn’t have problems in a drought like other crops, and rice can be harvested even if a field is submerged.

Keith Fontenot, LSU AgCenter county agent in Evangeline Parish, said planting there has gone exceptionally well. Ninety percent of the water-seeded crop has been planted, and drill seeding is 65 to 70 percent finished.

“It would be more if it hadn’t dried up so quickly,” said Fontenot.

Fontenot has received some reports of aphid infestations on the young rice plants. That is to be expected in rice fields near wheat.

Aphids can be treated with Karate or Mustang insecticides, but flushing a field with water usually takes care of them, said Barrett Courville, LSU AgCenter county agent in Acadia and Jefferson Davis parishes. He said the small, sucking insects prey on succulent growth of young rice plants.

Courville said Jefferson Davis Parish farmers may be slightly ahead of Acadia Parish farmers. “I think we’re off to a pretty good start.”

The last date recommended by the LSU AgCenter for planting rice is April 20. “I would bet by the end of this week, there won’t be a lot left to plant,” Courville said.

Stuart Gauthier, LSU AgCenter county agent in Vermilion Parish, said planting has gone well. “It’s rolling along. Some farmers have had to stop themselves so their rice doesn’t mature all at once.”

Dry weather improved conditions for drill planting, he said. “We were so wet two months ago, people thought we’d have to water seed everything.”

Gauthier said it’s likely that Vermilion Parish will have 60,000 acres of rice this year, compared with 40,000 last year as salt remained in fields as a result of Hurricane Ike in 2008. Some acreage — perhaps 2,000 to 3,000 acres — remains too salty to plant.

Johnny Saichuk, the LSU AgCenter’s rice specialist, said a seed treatment test plot using the insecticide Cruiser was aphid-free.

Some farmers made a mistake by waiting for rainfall after planting, but they should have flushed their fields, Saichuk said. “Most of the fields I’m looking at are too dry and need to be flushed. It’s a mistake to sit around waiting for rain.”

Saichuk estimated planting in south Louisiana at 60 percent complete.

Planting in northeast Louisiana has barely started.

“It’s time,” said Donna Lee, LSU AgCenter county agent in East Carroll Parish. “This is about when we get started.”

Lee said conditions are perfect for planting following a weekend shower and north Louisiana rice acreage is expected to increase this year.

Keith Collins, LSU AgCenter county agent in Richland Parish, said 15 percent of the crop should be planted by week’s end.

Collins also expects rice acreage to increase in north Louisiana, where 110,000 acres of rice was grown in 2009. “We may end up with a 20,000-acre or better increase,” he said.