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Some American rice may be headed for China

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CROWLEY, La., (KNOE 8 News) – The possibility of selling American rice to China is becoming more likely as trade negotiations progress, according to the director of the USA Rice Federation.

Talks have been under way for the past seven years, and upper-income Chinese consumers prefer higher-quality rice, Betsy Ward, federation chief executive officer, said at the annual joint meeting of the Louisiana Rice Council and the Louisiana Rice Growers Association Thursday, Jan. 10.

"We think we can capture some of this market," she said.

But talks are continuing on Chinese sanitary regulations. "They have pretty tough standards," Ward said.

The Chinese are net importers of rice, said U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R- Lafayette, who also spoke at the rice meeting. He said it's possible the Chinese farmers cannot produce enough rice, or perhaps the Chinese government is stockpiling rice to prop up rice prices artificially.

Ultimately, Boustany said, the global price of rice should increase.

The congressman said he will be fighting for dredging funds to keep waterways open to allow farm products to get to market. He said he also will be investigating why fertilizer prices continue to stay high even though natural gas prices have fallen.

Boustany said the United States needs a new five-year farm bill. The 2008 farm bill has been extended for another year, but Boustany said he doubts action will be taken soon.

"The longer we go, the more difficult it will be," Boustany said.

Ward also said the new free trade agreement with Colombia will open the South American country to American rice, and funds will be generated from the agreement that will direct $434,000 in rice research funds for Louisiana this year.

Those funds would be in addition to the checkoff funds earmarked for Louisiana rice research. Farmers have agreed to assess themselves a nickel for every 100 pounds of rice they sell, with the money earmarked for research. They also pay a 3-cent assessment for promotion.

But the two checkoff programs have been challenged in court by a small group of farmers who contend the checkoff referendum last year was not conducted properly, even though the measures passed overwhelmingly.

The check-off programs have worked successfully for 40 years, and the plaintiffs "have threatened the profitability and viability of every grower in the state," said Clarence Berken, Louisiana Rice Council chairman.

The plaintiffs have obtained a court order that prevents Mike Strain, Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry commissioner, from distributing the checkoff funds until July 1. Strain said Thursday that he will ask the legislature to change wording in state law so he can return to the practice of distributing the funds monthly.

Also, looking ahead to the 2013 rice season, an LSU AgCenter economist has told Vermilion Parish farmers that they have more reasons to be more optimistic this year than they had in 2012.

Looking at overall exports, Kurt Guidry said rice exports have increased in the past few months. He said exports of rice are 14 percent above last year, and 91,000 tons of U.S. rice were sold to Colombia recently.

He said there is anticipation that U.S. rice acreage may drop this year by 100,000 acres with the expectation that Arkansas growers may switch to other crops. "We heard that last year, and it didn't come to fruition."

He said it appears that fertilizer prices may remain stable or decline with two new fertilizer plants starting production soon. But he said the projected 99 million acres of corn this year would increase demand for fertilizer.

Diesel prices may be 10-20 cents less than last year, he said.

Mike Salassi, LSU AgCenter economist, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture has projected an average price of $15 per hundredweight, or $24 per barrel, for rice this year.

Also at the series of meetings in Kaplan, Bunkie, Ville Platte, Crowley and Welsh, rice experts from the LSU AgCenter advised farmers of possible strategies to use for the upcoming rice growing season. The LSU AgCenter will hold its final session on Jan. 22 at the Rayville Civic Center for north Louisiana rice farmers.

Steve Linscombe, LSU AgCenter rice breeder and director of the Rice Research Station, said conventional varieties with blast resistance are still available. Catahoula rice had high yields with good blast resistance, he said.

Linscombe said CL151 was more susceptible to blast last year than expected. "If you are going to grow it, plant it as early as possible and plan to use a fungicide."

He said last year's date-of-planting study showed a benefit to planting in March for most varieties. He said CL111 had good blast resistance, although it was not immune to the disease.

Linscombe said a Clearfield version of Jazzman is being developed, and foundation seed will be grown at the station this year. He said the Clearfield Jazzman line has outyielded conventional Jazzman and Jazzman-2 with good blast resistance.

In addition, a medium-grain Clearfield variety is being developed. He said the blast epidemic last year provided a good screening opportunity to eliminate disease-prone lines. "We threw away a lot of things last year we ordinarily would have kept."

Linscombe said hybrid rice development is progressing at the Rice Research Station.

He said Caffey, a medium-grain variety, is planned for testing by the Kellogg Co. to determine if it can be used in the company's cereal products. "Enough of our medium-grain goes to Kellogg that it is pretty important to have it approved by the company."

Johnny Saichuk, LSU AgCenter rice specialist, said farms shouldn't rule out conventional varieties this year. Cheniere, Catahoula and Mermentau varieties remain good choices to grow, he said.

Saichuk advised farmers to start scouting for stinkbugs as soon as rice plants flower. He also said mowing or rolling the first crop of rice seems to improve grain quality in the second crop.

Eric Webster, LSU AgCenter weed specialist, said using the herbicides RiceBeaux and NewPath increased red rice control by 10-15 percent. He said the combination also is effective against barnyard grass.

Webster also detailed a project aimed at controlling dormant hybrid rice and red rice. He said the best approach is to plant soybeans in an infested field for at least two to three years, but four is best.

Don Groth, LSU AgCenter plant pathologist, said planting early is a good way to reduce problems from blast disease. "The later you plant, the more blast you will have."

Mike Stout, LSU AgCenter entomologist, said the pesticide Belay is most effective against rice water weevils if applied 24-48 hours before a flood. He said the seed treatment Dermacor has now been approved for water seeding. Stout said this year is the last for the use of methyl parathion for rice stinkbugs.

Dustin Harrell, LSU AgCenter agronomist, said the recommended seeding rate of 60-90 pounds per acre could be reduced to 50-80 pounds.

"However, this will vary among varieties," Harrell said.

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