Weather hurt La. rice plantings, researcher says

Weather hurt La. rice plantings, researcher says

WELSH, La. (AP) — The future of Louisiana's rice industry depends on research into new varieties that can provide bigger crop yields and plants that thrive in changing weather conditions, an LSU researcher says.

Steve Linscombe, rice research director for the LSU Ag-Center, told farmers attending a Jeff Davis Business Alliance meeting that mild weather in January and February delayed plantings. A record cold snap in March and April was followed by "on-and-off rain," making it a challenge to get rice planted, he said.

Only within the past month have fields started to look productive, Linscombe said.

Some soybean farmers had to plant their crops several times, he said.

The number of rice farmers in Louisiana has fallen from more than 3,200 three decades ago to fewer than 1,000 today, he said.

"It wasn't too long ago one out of seven people in the United States were directly involved in the production of agriculture," Linscombe said.

Economies of scale have forced small farms to go out of business, leaving only large farms run by fewer families. Remaining farmers have faced challenging times with more extreme weather swings and a lack of stability from the federal government.

"You need to be pretty big today to be successful. But when you start thinking about that, the percentage of people directly involved in production of agriculture is so low today that you don't get a lot of leverage out of agriculture," Linscombe said.

Advances in rice development and technology are keeping the rice industry economical and environmentally viable, he said.

"If you are in research, you better have people out there looking for many years down the road because this is what is going to keep us in business and keep our children and grandchildren in business," Linscombe said.

One advancement that has dramatically changed the way rice is grown in Louisiana is the Clearfield technology developed at the AgCenter Rice Research Station in Crowley. The rice is resistant to weeds and herbicides, leading to bigger crop yields and higher profits.

Linscombe said there is also a long-term research project underway at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines that is looking to create a rice plant that is better at converting sunlight into carbohydrates for better crop yield.

If the project is successful, it will reduce the amount of water needed to grow rice by 75 percent, he said.

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