Rice Farmers Learn Good News About USDA Program Payments

   Out of the joint meeting of the Louisiana Rice Council and the Louisiana Rice Growers Association on Feb. 10 came good news for Louisiana rice farmers.
   When he came to the podium to receive a Distinguished Service Award, farmer John Owen, of Richland Parish, read an email sent to him from the staff of Tom Vilsack, U.S. Department of Agriculture secretary. It said farm program payments from the 2014 crop year will be sent in November.           These payments had not been expected until early 2016.
   Owen made the announcement when he and Evangeline Parish farmer Richard Fontenot were recognized for their work at preserving checkoff funds for rice promotion and research.
Owen said 95 percent of farmers and landowners have chosen to continue their contributions for research and promotion.
   Also honored was Johnny Saichuk, recently retired LSU AgCenter rice specialist.
   At the joint meeting, Ken Norton, state conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, described several programs available to provide payments to rice farmers for providing habitat for migratory birds. “The rice industry is a leader here,” he said.
   He said rice farmers have become more efficient, decreasing their use of fuel, water and fertilizer, resulting in less erosion. “There is very little sediment and erosion coming from rice fields.”
   Norton said farmers have benefitted financially from NRCS conservation programs, and the environment and waterfowl population have been strengthened. The conservation stewardship program for rice farmers will help offset the loss of direct payments in the new farm bill. The program will provide $10 million for farmers in the six rice-producing states, he said.
Mike Strain, Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, said proposed cuts to the LSU AgCenter would be devastating. “We cannot, should not, cannot and, by God, will not cut the AgCenter anymore.”
   He said $1 invested with the LSU AgCenter generates $24 in the state’s economy. “We have to make the hard choices, and we have to draw the line.”
   The USA Rice Federation staff spoke at rice meetings in Jennings, at the LSU AgCenter Dean Lee Research and Extension Center near Alexandria on Feb. 11, and at Delhi on Feb. 12.
   At all three meetings Betsy Ward, USA Rice Federation chief executive officer, said President Barack Obama’s initiative to open the door to trading with Cuba would be a big boost for American rice. Cuba was the biggest customer of U.S. rice until the embargo that has been in place since 1962.
“I think we can get the market back, but I think we’re just at the very beginning of that,” she told the Central Louisiana Rice Growers Association at the Dean Lee facility.
   She said the President can take some action without congressional approval to remove some hurdles to exporting rice to Cuba.
   A representative of the USA Rice Federation will meet next week with the Cuban trade ministry, she said. Currently, Cuba buys most of its rice from Vietnam because of price and easier banking restrictions, she said.
   Efforts to sell more American rice to Iraq continues, Ward said, but the country has chosen to buy rice from other countries such as Thailand. She said the U.S. State Department is monitoring the situation after 36 members of Congress signed a letter complaining of the unfair Iraqi policy.
   She said Mexico continues to be the largest buyer of American rice, but concerns over quality have reduced the amount. Mexico is importing more rice from Uruguay and Asian countries.
   She said a promotion effort in Mexico underway includes a new logo for American rice sold there. “They know our food safety record is better than anywhere else in the world.”
   Work continues to clear hurdles for selling rice to China, Ward said.
   Ben Mosely, USA Rice Federation vice president for government affairs, urged farmers to sign up for Farm Service Administration programs that require establishing base acreage and yield records. The deadline is March 31st, he said, but word from Arkansas is that only 2 percent of farmers there have signed up.
   “You’re leaving money on the table if you don’t update your yields,” he told farmers at Dean Lee.
Michael Klein, USA Rice vice president for marketing and communications, said a series of focus groups revealed that many consumers are unaware that rice is grown in the U.S. While they have a favorable view of farmers, many are adamantly opposed to genetically modified crops, he said.
   Klein said the federation website will be revised, and a campaign will continue to promote rice in restaurants in the host cities for the USA Rice Outlook Conference, to be held in New Orleans in December.
At the Northeast Louisiana Rice Growers Association meeting on Feb. 12 in Delhi, Rogers Leonard, LSU AgCenter program leader for plant science, urged farmers to tell legislators the value of the LSU AgCenter. Proposed cuts would dramatically affect the AgCenter’s ability to serve agriculture in Louisiana, he said.
   “There will have to be some restructuring, some changes that will have to take place,” he said.
LSU AgCenter scientists advised farmers at the Delhi meeting about measures to be taken in their 2015 crop.
Sebe Brown, LSU AgCenter entomologist, said reducing grassy vegetation around rice fields could help reduce stinkbug populations. He also said low seeding rates can result in reduced rice water weevil pressure.

 Johnny Saichuk, recently retired LSU AgCenter rice specialist, received a Distinguished Service Award for his work advising rice farmers  throughout  Louisiana. The award was made Feb. 10 at a joint meeting of the Louisiana Rice Council and the Louisiana Rice Growers  Association.


 Rice farmers Richard Fontenot of Evangeline Parish, at left, and John Owen, of Richland Parish, were honored with Distinguished Service Awards for  their work to protect the rice checkoff program that funds research and promotion. The award was made Feb. 10 in Jennings at the joint meeting of the  Louisiana Rice Council and the Louisiana Rice Growers Association.
 Photos by Bruce Schultz

 Brown also urged farmers not to use acephate on stinkbugs. He said the insecticide has been found in overseas shipments that were rejected.
Dustin Harrell, LSU AgCenter rice specialist, said acephate is not labeled for legal use on stinkbugs in rice. “The last thing we need is something to cause issues in any of our important export markets,” he said.
   Harrell said it’s possible that the acephate found in the rice was originally intended for a soybean field, and the spray had drifted onto adjacent cropland.
   Ward said the rice with acephate was found in a shipment to Costa Rica.
   Harrell also said the continuing California drought that resulted in increased medium-grain rice acreage last year could mean Arkansas farmers will plant more medium-grain this year. “This year, there are some contracts out there for medium-grain, but they are not as prevalent as they were last year,” he said.
   Don Groth, LSU AgCenter plant pathologist, said controlling Cercospora in later-planted rice could require earlier applications of propiconazole. Once rice heads emerge, he said, spraying is too late.
   Eric Webster, LSU AgCenter weed scientist, said Nealley’s sprangletop is becoming more of a problem in Louisiana. He said it has been found in the Oak Grove area. He said it is best controlled with RiceStar HT, but the new herbicide provisia will also provide control. ∆
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