Next season could bring significant reductions in acreage for some rice producing states, according to rice specialists addressing the USA Rice Outlook Conference in Austin, Texas. Here’s a state by state look.

Arkansas

Arkansas rice producers had their fourth consecutive rain-delayed planting season in 2011, which along with record flooding, contributed to a 35 percent decline in harvested acres, to 1.855 million acres, noted Bobby Coats, Extension economist and professor, University of Arkansas. “We had prevented plantings of 266,000 acres and failed plantings of 38,000 acres.”

Rice yields for 2011  are estimated at 7,000 pounds or 156 bushels per acre. “This is the second highest on record. Arkansas rice production was estimated at 81 million hundredweight, the lowest since 1997.”

Coats also pointed out that Arkansas producers “have now suffered through four straight years of serious, economic production and marketing challenges. This is a truly historic period.”

California

Chris Greer, rice farming systems manager, University of California, said it was a difficult planting season for many California producers. “We had periods of rain through much of March, then in April, it cleared out. We had about a one and half month period to get the crop in, and for the most part we did a good job of getting everything planted.

Fairly mild temperatures prevailed during the vegetative stage of rice development, “which usually leads to good yields, unless it is so cool that we get cool temperature blanking like we did in 2010. This year, we escaped that problem. We did see rice blast as far north and east as we’ve ever seen it.

“In October, we had about a 9-day period where we either had rain, dew, fog or drizzle. Yields and milling quality was looking good until we started getting some of the appraisals back. The vast majority of the rice is U.S. Grade No. 1, and we had quite a few No. 2s and some No. 3s. We did get quite a few calls saying we had red rice, but it appears to be damaged kernels.”

California acreage of 588,000 acres in 2011 “was the third highest in history, and only 5,000 acres short of the record which was set in 1981. Yield was about 8,400 hundredweight per acre, up 5 percent over the previous year. Total production was a little over 49 million hundredweight, the second highest on record.”

Greer noted that the price for California medium-grain rice “has been declining recently. There are reported cash sales of $10.25 to $10.75 in the last few weeks.”

Greer estimates California rice acres of between 550,000 acres and 575,000 acres in 2012.

Louisiana

A major issue for Louisiana rice producers in 2010 included too little fresh water, particularly on the southwest side of the state, and continued problems with salt water intrusion, according to Johnny Saichuk, Extension rice specialist, LSU AgCenter. “We also had too much water in some areas. Producers along the Mississippi River were worried about flooding. And we had problems with heat. I thought 2010 was bad, but 2011 was worse.”

Saichuk noted that producers were able to get rice planted early thanks a very warm March. “We had an abnormally cold April. We set record for cold temperatures into the second week in May. Then in the third week of May, we set record highs. June was okay, July and August were absolutely terrible. We had some fungicide failures and we had some problems with milling quality.

The fungicide failure did confirm sheath blight resistance to strobilurin fungicide. “We’ve never had variation in this fungus before. Rhizoctonia is a fungus that typically reproduces asexually, which means it doesn’t have a lot of variation. We don’t know yet whether this was a spontaneous mutation or whether we have actually had some sexual reproduction. We are looking at a possible Section 18 for another fungicide to address the problem.”

In the absence of rain, rice acreage could decline significantly this coming season in southwest Louisiana, especially in Vermillion Parish, due to the salt water intrusion problem. “Acreage in the northeast part of the state depends on the other crops.”

Mississippi

Lower yields in 2010 due to heat, lower rice prices at harvest and higher corn and soybean prices led to a 50 percent decrease in rice acres in the state in 2011, noted Nathan Buehring, Extension rice specialist, Mississippi State University.

“We typically range between 200,000 acres and 250,000 acres in Mississippi. This was the lowest acreage we have seen since the early 1980s.”

Buehring noted that the rice crop experienced several periods of excessive heat “and bacterial panicle blight was also a problem with the 2011 crop. We had a lot of questions as to whether the problem was actual sterility or bacterial panicle blight.”

Buehring projects a continued decline in rice acres in 2012. “Rice is going to have to be at a premium to some of these other crops, like corn and soybeans. We could be down to levels we haven’t seen since the 1970s.We will probably see an increase in the percentage of hybrid acres.”

Missouri Bootheel

Rice acreage in southeast Missouri declined significantly from the previous year, primarily due to flooding issues, noted Donn Beighley, rice research fellow, Southeast Missouri State University “About April 3, it started raining, and it didn’t stop. The St. Francis and Black rivers both overflowed their banks. We had water knocking on our door at the experiment station.”

Beighley noted that some farmers “flew rice into standing floodwaters, but most of the planting occurred after the first of May. That’s normally when we’re telling our farmers it’s time to stop planting. About 75 percent of the rice planting in the state occurred between May 15 and June 3. Because of the floods, we had more water-seeded rice than normal.”

Yields varied from “short of 140 bushels per acre up to over 210 bushels,” Beighley said. “The average is probably about 150 bushels. We did run into some problems on the later planted rice with high temperatures during pollination. Some of the even later planted rice had better yields because pollination occurred during cooler temperatures, but then we ran into problems trying to get it to mature. As I left to come to this meeting, there was still some rice in the fields. Last week, we had a 4-inch snow on it.”

Beighley estimates rice acres in the Bootheel “might get up to 175,000 acres in 2012.”

Texas

Larry Falconer, Extension economist, Texas AgriLife Extension Service, Texas A&M University, said the 2011 season was either the driest year on record, or the driest since 1917, depending on where you were.

While USDA pegged lower yields for Texas this season, it wouldn’t surprise Falconer to see a yield increase from the current yield going into the final estimate. “USDA has total rice production in Texas 6 percent lower than the previous year, but I think it’s going to be closer to a 4 percent reduction.”

Falconer estimates a 15 percent increase in fertility costs and substantial increases in diesel and natural gas prices for the coming year. Both will contribute to an approximate 10 percent increase in total direct expenses.

Given current prices, rice acreage in Texas would normally remain stable to slightly higher in 2012, according to Falconer. However, the availability of surface water will be a significant factor for rice acres in 2012. “Unless something drastic happens, there is going to be a curtailment of water supplies for three rice-producing counties served by the Lower Colorado River Authority. The current system is at 740,000 acre feet at this time. LCRA has announced that if we are below 850,000 acre feet on March 1, there will not be any water made available to the canal systems.”

Falconer said the three counties served by the LCRA make up about 50 percent of the acreage, depending on the year.

“Even under average conditions, it’s unlikely that we could get to water levels where there could be significant water made available for the rice crops. Long story short, we’re looking at curtailments of surface water that could amount to half the acreage in Texas, if not a little over, of the acreage that was planted this year. Unfortunately the curtailments could put our acreage back to levels not seen since 1901. I wish I had better news.”