The 2012 rice harvest in South Louisiana suffered from bad weather and disease, according to some LSU-Ag officials.
Dr. Steve Linscombe, director of the LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station in Crowley, said the disease known as rice “blast” – a fungus infection – is “the worst seen in 30 years”.
“We grow a number of varieties of rice, some are resistant to this disease. Overall, it’s not going to cut our yields in half,” he said. “This particular disease is unique to rice and is a wind-borne disease which means that the spores can actually be picked up by the wind and infect fields a few miles away. No field is completely immune to it.”
Linscombe said he believed the disease was “overwintered” – meaning it laid dormant in the fields over the recent, mild winter.
“The rainy weather certainly didn’t help,” he said. “Next year we ‘re probably going to favor the growing of those varieties of rice that are more resistant to rice blast. This will go along way to minimize the problem.”
According to Linscombe, the Crowley area saw a substantial amount of disease presence while fields west of Mamou did not see near the amount of “disease pressure”.
Barrett Courville, county agent in for the LSU Ag Center in Jeff Davis and Acadia, said the disease, along with heavy rains, could greatly affect the total yield for the year.
“It’s going to hurt yields, ther’es no question. We ‘re seeing yields go down now already. It’s just been a really bad disease year,” he said. “This year the weather and rain came around time to harvest. The crop was ready to get out of the ground, but we have to have dry weather to harvest.”
Courville said that yield projections this year looked favorable before rice blast was detected. He said the average crop in South Louisiana saw about 40 barrels per acre.
“Some people see this year’s harvest as really good and some see it as really bad,” he said. “Without the blast we might have seen 45 to 48 barrels per acre in south Louisiana.”
Courville said the price of local rice has gone up from last year with about $24 dollars per barrel as the highest reported this year.
Cost of rice production, on the other hand, has gone up due to the disease and shortage of fertilizers driving up their price, according to Courville.
“Costs could have gone up due to fungicide uses, with some farmers having to treat crops with two applications of the fungicide because of the blast,” he said. “Fertiliizer costs have gone up about 30 to 40 percent. Supposedly, there was a shortage of the fertilizers and they were difficult to get. But fertilizer went up from about $500 to $600 per ton to about $800 to $1,000 per ton.”
Jeff Davis and Acadia parishes are among the highest producing rice parishes in the state – which means that each parish has about 80,000 acres of rice planted annually. In Southwest Louisiana, there is a total of about 200,000 acres of rice.
A disease like rice blast can have an economic impact on the area.
Courville said that a “wet, warm spring grew the fungus and it just blossomed”.
Courville said that many farmers may store their rice for about a year, anticipating a price increase.
Some farmers have completed their harvest.
Courville said that rice farmers this year were “a little bit ahead of schedule” even with the heavy rains. He said that if not for the rains, the harvest would already be completed.
Courville said that rice wasn’t the only crop affected by heavy rains. Soybeans were also devastated by the weather.
“The rains have hurt the soybeans and it has pretty much wiped out the lower parts of most of the soybean fields in many areas,” he said. “The water just couldn’t get off. And when water sits on the plant it burns it and scalds it.”