Low U.S. rice prices and low yields in south Louisiana are expected to result in a decline in U.S. rice acres of between 5 percent and 7 percent in 2005, according to state rice specialists and economists speaking at the USA Rice Outlook Conference in New Orleans.

That would put U.S. rice acreage for 2005 between 3.09 million and 3.15 million acres, compared to 3.34 million acres in 2004. The forecasts are based on general observations and should be considered preliminary. Here is the state by state outlook:

Arkansas

In 2004, Arkansas rice producers harvested an estimated 1.56 million acres of rice and had a record yield of 6,800 pounds per acre. Arkansas also reported record rice production of 106 million hundredweight.

Bobby Coats, agricultural economist at the University of Arkansas, projects that Arkansas rice producers will plant a minimum of 1.5 million acres in 2005, a 3.5 percent decrease from 2004. “Long grain acreage would come in at a minimum of 1.35 million acres, a 3.4 percent decrease, while medium grain acreage, at 152,000 acres, would be a decrease of 4.4 percent.”

Under that scenario, all rice production for Arkansas, would be 105.4 million hundredweight, a decline of 0.6 percent. “Long grain production would come in at 95.5 million hundredweight, a decline of 0.2 percent, while medium grain would produce 9.8 million hundredweight, a decline of 5.2 percent.”

California

“A year ago, we were talking about how wet the spring was and how late the growers planted,” said Christopher Greer, farm advisor at the University of California. “We ended up with average yields and great quality.

“This year, we had a very dry spring. We had a lot of early plantings, but had a little bit of a cool spell after that. We had favorable harvesting conditions for the early-planted rice, but not for later plantings.

“Overall, we had great yields, and when the final numbers are in, we could have record yields. USDA has us at 84 hundredweight per acre. But talking to some of the dryers, that number may be low. Some people are estimating as much as 88 hundredweight or higher.”

Greer projects that in 2005, California rice producers will plant between 450,000 and 500,000 acres, compared to 600,000 acres in 2004. “This year, I’m not as sure about the acreage. We have potential water sales to southern California. If growers sell water, that ground will not be planted to rice. Bankers are asking a lot more questions when farmers are going in to borrow money.”

Louisiana

Louisiana’s rice acreage increased to 534,000 acres in 2004, with most of the gains in long grain. The state’s ratoon crop was also large, amounting to about 30 percent of the acreage, according to Extension rice specialist Johnny Saichuk. “Most of that is attributable to CL 161, which gave us a way to control red rice.”

On the other hand, “yields took a hit in 2004 and rice prices are not doing as well as we had hoped. The big reason for the decline (to around 5,800 pounds) is weather. We had the worst weather during my career of working with rice. We had a very warm March, everybody got planted, then we had a cold April and rice just shut down. Then in June, our second-driest month, we got hammered by rain. By the middle of June, we had our total annual rainfall.”

Saichuk expects Clearfield rice to increase in acreage in 2005. “It’s an excellent program and a good way to get red rice under control. We’re going to have to do a lot better job on our stewardship.”

Overall rice acreage in the state is likely headed down, according to Saichuk, to around 500,000 acres. “But I do think we’ll have more ratoon crop.

“Long-term, especially in south Louisiana, 80 percent of our acreage is rented, and that’s a problem. Until we can get the owners and the farmers on the same page, to improve the property to make farmers more efficient, the farmer is going to be stuck.

“Another problem is urban sprawl. We’ve been farming land for 100 years. More and more people want to live in the country. They move in next to you and say they don’t want farming next to them.”

Mississippi

In 2004, Mississippi growers planted 235,000 acres of rice, the same acreage the state planted in 2003. Yields in 2004 were a record 6,900 pounds per acre.

Steve Martin, agricultural economist at Delta Research and Extension Center, Stoneville, Miss., believes Mississippi’s rice acreage will increase 5 to 10 percent in 2005, to 245,000 to 255,000 acres.

Missouri

Missouri rice increased to 194,000 acres in 2004, due to good soybean prices and slightly higher nitrogen prices.

Missouri growers raised a record-yielding crop in 2004, at 6,350 pounds per acre. “We did not have an overall record production,” noted Andy Kendig with the University of Missouri Delta Center.

“We had a relatively moist, cool summer, but not to an extreme. We had a great stretch of weather during our planting period. We got our rice in the ground and it was full speed ahead.”

Kendig doesn’t look for “fundamental changes in our rice acreage. I think rice will rebound a little bit, since soybean production is a little less attractive and possibly complicated by the rust situation.”

According to Bruce Beck, Extension agronomist at Poplar Bluff, Mo., rice is likely to see another modest increase in acreage, if prices remain favorable, to between 196,000 acres and 200,000 acres in 2005.

Texas

Rising input costs are expected to contribute to lower acres for Texas rice producers, according to David Anderson, agricultural economist, Texas A&M University. “I would expect Texas to plant about 200,000 acres, maybe a little more, but basically fewer acres than last year when we planted 210,000 acres.

“I think we’re going to see higher yields back toward trend level, higher than that 6,600 pound level, partly because more acres are being planted to high-yielding varieties.”

e-mail: erobinson@primediabusiness.com