U.S rice acres could drop 13 percent to 17 percent in 2006, according to economists in the six major rice-producing states. If the forecasts hold true, U.S. rice acres will slip below 3 million acres in 2006, to somewhere between 2.7 million acres and 2.9 million acres.

The economists stressed that the acreage estimates were very preliminary and could move higher with improvement in rice prices or lower fuel and fertilizer costs. They gave their reports during the USA Rice Outlook Conference in Austin, Texas.

Texas rice acres are expected to decline to 150,000 acres to 170,000 acres, a 16 percent to 25 percent decrease from 2005; Missouri acres are expected to drop to 180,000 acres to 185,000 acres, a decline of 12 percent to 14 percent; Mississippi acres could decline to 200,000 acres to 240,000 acres, a decline of 10 percent to 30 percent; Louisiana acres could decline to 341,000 acres to 394,000 acres, a drop of 25 percent to 35 percent; California acreage could increase to 525,000 acres to 550,000 acres, a rise of 3 percent to 8 percent; and Arkansas could drop to 1.385 million acres, a decline of 15 percent.

California

A cool, wet spring, late planting and poor yields characterized the 2005 California rice crop, according to Chris Greer, University of California-Davis. “We had a hot July and several days when temperatures went over 100 degrees. We ended up with well below average yields, but generally good quality on the early-harvested rice.”

Greer estimates that California growers harvested 508,000 acres of rice in 2005, a 14 percent decrease from the near-record 590,000 acres of 2004. Yields are projected at 73 hundredweight per acre, a 15 percent decrease from the 86 hundredweight crop of 2004. It all led to 27 percent decrease in total production.

“Herbicide-resistant weed populations have been leading to multiple applications of herbicides and increased cost of weed control,” he said. “The weed competition leads to lower yields.”

Greer projects increased plantings for California in 2006, 525,000 acres to 550,000 acres. “But there are three constraints that could come into play – costs of production, water supply and urban encroachment around Sacramento, with lots of talk of development.”

Texas

Texas planted 202,000 acres of rice in 2005, down about 5 percent from 2004. According to Extension economist Lawrence Falconer, USDA’s projected yield of 7,200 pounds per acre for the 2005 crop might closer to 6,800 pounds due to lower ratoon crop acreage, particularly on the west side of Houston, because of large increases in fuel and fertilizer prices.

Falconer projects climbing production costs for Texas rice producers. A study showed that a farm with 400 acres of rice should expect a 29 percent increase in fertilizer prices in 2006 compared to 2004, along with a 20 percent increase in pesticide costs, a 5.5 percent increase in irrigation costs and a 32 percent increase in fuel and machinery costs increasing. That includes diesel costs of $2.20 per gallon. Total increase in costs for 2006 add up to about $96 per acre, not counting the expense of a ratoon crop.

Falconer says this very sharp increase in costs will likely lead to a decrease in acres in 2006, perhaps below the acreage of 2003, when Texas growers planted 180,000 acres of rice. Without immediate price improvement, that number could shrink to 150,000 acres to 170,000 acres.

“A trend line yield planted on 170,000 acres would put production at 11.5 million hundredweight. Trend line yields on 150,000 acres would put us around 10.1 million hundredweight. I wish I had better news.”

Missouri

Missouri harvested a record 211,000 acres of rice in 2005, according to Brian Ottis, rice agronomist at the Delta Center in Portageville, Mo. While the bulk of Missouri’s rice acreage still remains in Butler and Stoddard counties, new acres are being developed in Dunklin, Pemiscot and New Madrid counties.

A dry spring allowed Missouri growers to plant their rice acreage on time in 2005. Because growers don’t generally flush their rice crop, the dryness meant “a lot of Command didn’t get activated. Our weed control could have been a little better.”

The rice stalk borer made its first appearance in the Bootheel this year, “and we’re making growers aware that this problem does exist.”

Hurricanes affected a few rice acres in the region, but high fuel prices hurt more, according to Ottis. “We were at peak harvest when fuel prices went up. Farmers were paying $2.87 for transport loads and we had down rice on top of that.”

Ottis believes that Missouri rice acreage will continue to grow before capping out at in 2015 at around 300,000 acres, depending on prices. “We’re definitely seeing the earthmovers and dirt pans out there leveling the land.”

On the other hand, Ottis expects rice acres in Missouri to decline in 2006, to 180,000 acres to 185,000 acres. “But because of the versatility of our growers, it will depend on fuel prices. A lot could change right up until the last minute.”

Missouri rice yields declined in 2005 from 6,800 pounds per acre to about 6,300 pounds per acre. “But because of the increase in acreage, our total output set a record at 13.3 million hundredweight.”

Mississippi

Mississippi increased its acreage significantly in 2005, going from 235,000 acres to 265,000 acres, noted Steve Martin, an agricultural economist with the Delta Research and Extension Center at Stoneville, Miss. Yields are expected to average 6,500 pounds in 2005, down from the record of 6,900 pounds in 2004.

Martin estimates that Mississippi rice acreage will decline 10 percent to 30 percent in 2006, coming in at roughly 200,000 acres to 240,000 acres, primarily due to higher costs. A study shows rising cost of production across all crops in Mississippi, with the highest increase in rice. Recent cost increases are $52 per acre for corn, $51 per acre for cotton, $75 an acre for rice and $25 an acre for soybeans.

Louisiana

Louisiana rice producers planted 525,000 acres to rice in 2005, down slightly from 2004, noted Steve Linscombe, rice breeder at the LSU AgCenter, Crowley, La. Ratoon acreage has remained fairly stable at 25 percent of the total crop. However, second crop acreage declined in 2005 because of high cost of production. Growers had managed about 60,000 acres for a ratoon crop, but after Hurricane Rita, “we ended up with about 15,000 acres.”

Yield for 2005 is expected to average 6,200 pounds per acre, “which would be a record for us, despite not cutting a lot of ratoon crop. We had very good growing conditions and an outstanding first harvest. But our number of rice producers continues to go down.”

Prices at the beginning of the season “were discouraging, but expected to rise. Fuel prices escalated. Fertilizer prices followed suit. We had an extremely dry summer. We also had a mystery malady occur in rice, which we’re hoping to get a handle on.”

Long-term problems include continued conflict between landlords and tenants, urban sprawl, market access and high production costs.

For 2006, those close to the rice industry project a 25 percent to 35 percent decrease in rice acreage for Louisiana. “It could be more than that,” Linscombe said. “A lot will be determined by whether or not bankers can be convinced to lend the producer money to put in a crop.”

Arkansas

“An amazing achievement,” is the way that Bobby Coats, Extension agricultural policy analyst with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, described the 2005 rice-producing season in Arkansas. Record production was accomplished “under extraordinary difficult climatic, economic and political conditions.”

The state harvested an estimated 1.635 million acres of rice in 2005, a record, which produced a crop of 108 million hundredweight, also a record. The production accounted for approximately 49 percent of all U.S. production. Estimated average yield was 147 bushels per acre, compared to 2004’s 154 bushels per acre.

Coats estimates that in 2006, Arkansas rice producers will harvest 1.385 million acres, a decrease of 15 percent. Estimated long grain acreage of 1.23 million acres would be a decline of 20 percent from 2005. Estimated medium grain rice acres of 155,000 acres would be a 49 percent increase over 2005.

He estimates 2006 rice production at 95.7 million hundredweight, a reduction of 11 percent from 2005. Long grain production would come in at 85 million hundredweight, a 16 percent decline from a year ago, while medium grain production of 10.7 million hundredweight would be a 56 percent increase over this year.

Coats notes that per acre returns for rice are declining in the face of higher energy costs, which he estimated at having risen by about $80 per acre.

e-mail:erob@prismb2b.com