The Louisiana rice harvest started in early August. Everything was going well until the rains began.
Since the week of Aug. 11, “southern Louisiana has been getting thunderstorms every afternoon,” says Johnny Saichuk, LSU AgCenter rice specialist. “That’s slowed harvest way down. Farmers don’t want to rut fields up – especially those wanting to put in a second crop.
“We’re also running out of time for a second crop. The traditional recommendation for a second crop is you need to be harvested by Aug. 15. The later it gets, the more likely the second crop will be caught by a frost.”
Reached around noon on Aug. 18, Jackie Loewer, a grower in Branch, La., was “in the machine, ready to begin harvest as soon as possible, waiting for the dew to get off. We had a heavy fog this morning. There’s a 60 percent chance of rain today and tomorrow.”
The fields around Branch are “muddy and we can’t harvest where it would mean cutting ruts. The rule for this farm: cut when it’s dry and stop when it rains.”
Saichuk has heard the same all over south Louisiana. “Farmers will force the issue as much as they can. We run into this piece-meal harvesting every few years. Instead of working from 11 a.m. to dark, you work from noon to 3 p.m. Then the rains chase you out of the field. The same scenario plays out the next day.”
Is the Louisiana rice crop late anyway?
“We don’t have a very late crop. What we do have is a stretched out crop. There was a lot of late-planted rice because people who hadn’t intended to plant rice saw the prices and got in at the last minute. And when the crawfish price fell, some farmers drained fields and went with rice.”
Saichuk has spoken with growers in extreme south Louisiana that are about half done with harvest. He’s hearing of yields “that are pretty good – maybe better than last year. The real question, of course, is whether the later rice will pull the yield average down. But, so far, yields are encouraging in the upper 30- and lower 40-barrel range. There have been reports of 50-barrel rice, as well.”
Still, “it’s a little discouraging that the rice price went down with the latest USDA estimates. Farmers desperately need higher prices to counteract the input costs. This has been a very expensive crop to grow.”
Meanwhile, Loewer says growers are worried about the lack of a prolonged harvesting opportunity. “One of my friend’s crop is dry – at 15 percent or 16 percent moisture – and the rain is setting him back. That rice is very ripe and needs to be cut.”
Loewer is nearly half done harvesting his 1,650 acres. He says double crop plans “are going to be hurt. We’ll still do some of that but where we’ve rutted it up, we’ll leave it alone. That’s the same story with my neighbors.”
So far, Loewer’s yields are good and the quality “looks fine. There aren’t a lot of blanks. Around here, there’s plenty of 7,500 to 8,000-pound rice being cut. That’s the good news. Now, we just need the rain to leave us alone for a little while.”