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Difficult year for many: Yields vary in Louisiana rice harvest

With the 2006 rice harvest more than half complete in southwest Louisiana, results are varied, according to LSU AgCenter agents and area farmers.

“Yields have been all over the board,” said Ron Levy, LSU AgCenter county agent in Acadia Parish, adding that a wet harvest combined with losses from cercospora disease and rice water weevils have made it a difficult year for some producers.

“But the overall picture is the harvest in the Acadia Parish area is going to be a fairly good crop,” he said.

Harvest is complete in more than half of the parish, Levy said, and yields have ranged from the low 30-barrels-an-acre range to the high 50s. A barrel of rice is 162 pounds.

Levy said many farmers are waiting to see if stubble shows signs of producing a second crop, while others plan to put the harvested rice fields into crawfish production. Consistent summer rains could set the stage for a good crawfish season.

Rice prices have edged up, and predictions of dramatic increases are encouraging, Levy said. “That slightly upward price trend does bring more optimism than what we've seen in the past couple of years.”

Eddie Eskew, LSU AgCenter county agent in Jefferson Davis Parish, said some farmers in the northern part of the parish reported barrels-per-acre yields in the low 20s.

Again, cercospora, or narrow brown spot, is taking its toll, Eskew said, reducing yields by 10-15 barrels an acre. “We've never had a problem like we had this year.”

Rain at the onset of harvest made it difficult for combines to work in muddy conditions. Farmer Johnny Hensgens of Lake Charles said he won't be trying to grow a second crop on most of his fields. “There's very little I've been able to second crop because of cercospora and rutting.”

Hensgens said barrel-per-acre yields from his first fields ranged from the low to mid-30s, but those numbers have increased to the upper 30s to low 40s.

Hensgens said it's encouraging that prices have risen, but more is needed to making farming profitable. “It takes a lot to make up for the fuel cost increase.”

Fred Zaunbrecher, who farms with his two brothers near Rayne, said yields have “have turned out much better than expected.”

Most of the Zaunbrechers' fields produced yields in the high 40s to 50s, he said, although some fields were limited to 30-barrels-an-acre because of herbicide drift.

Keith Fontenot, LSU AgCenter county agent in Evangeline Parish, said some farmers there are having one of their best years, with yields in the high 40s, and some in the 50s.

On the down side, disease problems have decreased yields by as much as 15 to 20 barrels per acre in the southern part of the parish. In addition, rice is coming out of the fields at unusually low harvest moisture levels, and that has resulted in shattering and lowered milling quality.

“Yields are as varied as I have ever seen them,” said Steve Linscombe, LSU AgCenter rice breeder. “We have some producers who are doing quite well, and we have others who are off considerably. We have some producers who are cutting good yields, and they get to a field and for whatever reason, the yields drop off dramatically.”

A complex of several minor diseases have become major culprits this growing season, according to Linscombe. “While cercospora certainly is worse than normal, there are a number of other typically minor diseases such as sheath rot and stem rot that are more prevalent this year.”

B.D. Fontenot, crop consultant for Agriliance, said yields were off in the initial phase of the harvest, but the numbers have steadily increased.

Disease has affected yields 5 to 7 barrels an acre, he said. “It's in every variety, and it's going to be worse in some places than others. I've never seen it this bad before.”

Howard Cormier, LSU AgCenter county agent in Vermilion Parish, said farmers are more upbeat after hearing reports that conditions were favorable for substantial price increases in the future.

Cormier said yields in Vermilion Parish have held steady — with most fields producing 30-40 barrels per acre. “Some farmers are making decent yields, even with cercospora in the picture. I think the vast majority will not second crop. They're tired of paying for high-priced diesel and extra fertilizer.”

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