Texas rice producers reduced acreage to the lowest point since 1934 last year and observers expect acreage to remain at that level, 147,549 acres, for 2007.

Rice varieties have also changed, said Jam Stansel, resident director and professor emeritus at Texas A&M, Beaumont.

Stansel discussed recent trends in Texas rice during the recent National Conservation Systems Cotton and Rice Conference in Houston.

Stansel said 2006 acreage was only 25 percent of peak production, about 600,000 acres in 1980, and a 26 percent cut from 2005.

“This trend does not bode well for the Texas rice industry,” he said.

The good news is yield. “Texas rice yield averages were the highest on record in 2006,” Stansel said. Main crop yields pushed 8,000 pounds per acre, dry weight.

He said an earlier planting date may have helped yields. “The first 50 percent of the crop was planted two weeks earlier than normal,” he said. “Dry field conditions during winter and early spring allowed early planting. The crop also survived near record cold in late March and early April and was harvested a week earlier than normal.

“Statewide, reduced acreage, early planting and early harvest contributed to the record yield.”

“Main crop yields across all varieties were above normal in the western regions of the state's rice production area and about normal in the east.”

Stansel said some problems with a ratoon crop resulted from ample moisture in the main crop setting the second harvest up for disease pressure.

Stansel said in 1934 average yield was only 2,241 pounds per acre.

New varieties have helped boost production since then.

Texas growers continued to rely on Cocodrie, planting 42 percent of acreage in that variety. Cheniere followed with 14 percent of the acreage. Various Clearfield varieties accounted for 16 percent of 2006 acreage and Rice Tec hybrids were grown on 14 percent of planted acres with XL 723 claiming the most acreage.

Stansel said hybrids yielded quite well last year with 40 percent of hybrid fields producing more than 10,000 pounds per acre.

Stansel expects more hybrid varieties will be planted in 2007. “Presidio seed is already gone,” he said.

“I don't foresee an increase in acreage his year and if there is any increase it will not be significant. We are growing rice on the soils that are best suited to rice.”