Ask any rice producer about the 2009 crop season, and water will enter the conversation pretty quickly. In the West, water availability was and continues to be a constant concern. Here’s more from rice experts in the six rice-producing states, who spoke at the USA Rice Outlook Conference in New Orleans, La.

• California

Christopher Greer, University of California farm advisor, says the planting season in the state “was sort of a mixed bag. Depending on when you planted, you had really good weather or you planted between rains. Mid-summer, we had mild conditions. When you don’t have 16 days over 100 degrees in July, it’s usually a good indicator that yields will be pretty good.

Greer said cool and calm weather prevailed during ripening and harvest “so we had very good milling quality early on. Overall, it was a great year for rice production in California.”

California harvested almost 550,000 acres of rice in 2009, the fourth highest harvested acreage on record. Yields were estimated at 8,500 pounds per acre. “Quite a few people told me they had the best yields they’ve ever had.”

Production, at 46.7 million hundredweight, would be an 8 percent increase over 2008 and the second largest production on record, behind 2004.

Greer says California rice plantings could be between 500,000 acres and 550,000 acres in 2010. Greer says the state “is in pretty good shape for next year in regard to water availability.”

• Texas

In 2009, South Texas rice producers went through the biggest drought since 1917, which created some challenges for rice grown with surface water, said Larry Falconer, Texas A&M University. “We were well below levels that would involve curtailment of rice water to four irrigation districts in the Lower Colorado River area. Since then, the problem has been ameliorated to some extent, and that would allow the same amount of acres to be planted to the area in 2010.

“If we get decent weather for field preparation, and a normal year going forward, we expect planted acreage for 2010 to be steady to up a little. But the water levels we have now do not guarantee an opportunity to ratoon crop as much acreage, which makes projections for production more difficult.”

About 85 percent of the Texas’ 170,000 rice acres are located in 11 counties west of Houston, Falconer said. “Ninety-seven percent of Texas acreage was planted to long-grain rice with Cocodrie, CL 151 and Presidio the predominant varieties. Yields were projected at 7,200 pounds per acre, up 3.4 percent from the previous year, although final yields could be substantially higher.”

• Louisiana

Johnny Saichuk, LSU Ag Center rice specialist, said medium-grain acreage in Louisiana was the highest since 1994-95. “Price increases in the spring drove the increase and there was quite a scramble for seed.”

There was also an upward trend in ratoon crop rice, although yields were disappointing due to effects from late-season rains. “The ratoon crop almost demands that you plant a hybrid if you want to be profitable in south Louisiana,” Saichuk said.

CL 151 was the most popular rice variety planted in Louisiana in 2009, followed by CL 161 and Jupiter (a medium-grain). “Clearfield is on about half the Louisiana acreage which bothers me a little bit because of stewardship issues. Where growers can rotate to soybeans, it’s not as much of a problem.”

Hybrid rice was planted on 16 percent of Louisiana rice acres, noted Saichuk.

In 2009, “rice producers thought they were off to a record yield,” Saichuk noted, “but yield is probably going to come in at around 6,400 pounds.”

That’s higher than the hurricane damaged yields of 2008, but lower than 2007 yields of over 7,100 pounds. Input costs – primarily fuel and fertilizer costs – declined in 2009, making the 2009 crop more profitable for many growers, according to Saichuk.

Saichuk expects Clearfield acreage to increase in 2010. “That’s what farmers are telling me. It’s a system they like. It’s easier to manage. I think our hybrid acreage will remain stable. Total acreage will probably go up slightly. Vermilion Parish will bring some more land back into production in the salt-affected areas. I expect Northeast Louisiana to pick up some more acres.”

• Arkansas

In 2009, Arkansas rice harvested acres were estimated by USDA at 1.475 million acres, a 5.7 percent increase over 2008. Yields are estimated at 6,730 pounds, and production is estimated at 99.3 million hundredweight, which would be the fourth largest on record.

The top five rice varieties or hybrids by harvested acreage in Arkansas in 2009 were Wells, 17 percent; CL XL 729, 15 percent; Jupiter, 13 percent; CL 151, 12 percent; and Frances, 10 percent.

Arkansas rice producers harvested an estimated 1.25 million acres of rice in 2009, compare to a 5-year average of 1.35 million acres.

“The economic backdrop for the season was one of a global financial crisis,” said University of Arkansas economist Bobby Coats. “The climatic backdrop was damaging global weather activity. The agronomic backdrop was managing weather-created production issues. The marketing backdrop was managing global market turbulence, government intervention and global weather uncertainty.”

Coats says Arkansas rice producers could plant as many as 1.323 million acres of rice in 2010 under a bullish scenario, and up to 1.18 million acres under a bearish one. Medium grain production could drop to 135,000 acres “to minimize risk.”

Coats urged Arkansas rice producers to “plant for the market” in 2010.

• Missouri

Missouri rice producers started the 2009 season about two weeks late due to excessive rainfall, according to Donn Beighley, rice breeder at Southeast Missouri State University. “We planted for about a week, then the rains came back again. It didn’t dry up until late May, so we ended up with two planting seasons.”

Cool or cold weather prevailed through much of the growing season, noted Beighley. “We had only two to three weeks in June when we had good, rice-growing weather.”

The lack of heat units led to maturity and harvest delays.

Beighley said that information from rice scouts in southeast Missouri indicated that rice acres “were down about 10 percent in 2009. The Farm Service Agency said we had about 196,000 acres, which is up 2.5 percent. We ended up with between 180,000 acres and 190,000 acres, mostly because we just couldn’t get in there and plant.”

Beighley said the tadpole shrimp was again a worrisome pest in southeast Missouri. “It can literally wipe out a crop if you get it in your fields. Green aphids have been a problem on late-season rice.”

Disease pressure in Missouri “was horrendous,” Beighley said. “It was one of the worst years I’ve seen in my 10 years here. Blast came in early and hit a lot of different varieties. We had to put out as many as three applications of fungicides.”

Fields were very clean of weeds overall, according to Beighley. “We got planted, we got our herbicides put out and we got the rain needed to activate them.”

Drift issues were a big problem in southeast Missouri “and it’s not just glyphosate. We’re starting to see Newpath drift as a problem.”

Yields were still being tabulated in Missouri due to the lateness of harvest, “but we felt like we had better yields than in 2008.”

Beighley says with a return to typical weather in 2010 “we have the potential to increase rice area to 220,000 acres. Growth areas are going to be in Dunklin and Pemiscot counties. Some cotton acres are going to rice. We’re also going to see more and more on-farm storage.”

• Mississippi

Mississippi rice producers suffered through the second wettest May on record, the fifth wettest July on record and the wettest October on record, along with one of the driest Junes ever, according to Nathan Buehring, Extension rice specialist with Mississippi State University.

“We replanted and spot planted more rice than we ever had. Rice can stand wet weather, but we had two weeks of excessive wet weather in May which led to a lot of disease decay in the soil. We also had a lot of late-planted rice, well into June.”

Less than 5 percent of the state’s crop was abandoned, while yield losses due to lodging were about 10 percent. Buehring said quality losses were about 15 percent, with much of that due to staining “where the rice sat underwater for extended periods of time. Discounts totaled an average of $1.25 per bushel. When you get stained rice, a lot of that goes to the pet food market, which is also discounted.”

Total rice production losses for the state were projected at $37.5 million. “For only 240,000 acres of rice, that’s a lot of money left on the table.”

Buehring says Mississippi rice acres “could be higher in 2010, but it’s a long time between now and harvest.”

e-mail: erobinson@farmpress.com