State House, Senate Ag Committees Hear About Louisiana Rice Production

by Richard Bogren, LSU AgCenter

CROWLEY, La. – Rice industry representatives presented an overview of production, milling, economics and research during a joint meeting of the Louisiana House and Senate Committees on Agriculture, Forestry, Aquaculture and Rural Development on Oct. 6.

“We’re here today because we’re interested in research and development and also problems of the industry,” said Sen. Francis Thompson, of Delhi, chairman of the senate committee.

The meeting was held at the LSU AgCenter H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station.

“Research and development at this station is the best you can get probably in the world,” Thompson said.

Legislators generally expressed interest and support of the Louisiana rice industry and research at the station.

The rice research station “is a hidden jewel,” said Rep. Jack Montoucet, of Crowley, who is not a member of the ag committee but represents the area where the station is located.

“People come here from around the world,” he said. “Hopefully we can keep it funded at the proper level.”

Jackie Loewer, a rice farmer from Branch and chairman of the Louisiana Rice Research Board, said the purpose of the meeting was to “explain what the rice industry is all about and inform you about how our industry works.”

Richard Fontenot, a rice farmer from Ville Platte, provided an overview of rice production in Louisiana, explaining land preparation, planting, flooding, growth states and harvest.

The state grows more than 400,000 acres of rice with about 136,000 acres in second crop or ratoon production, he said.

“If we don’t have water, we don’t have rice,” Fontenot said. “Water is our No. 1 resource. No water, no rice.”

Using less energy and conserving water have been significant improvements of the past 10 years along with increased yields, he said.

John Morgan with Louisiana Rice Mill in Crowley represented the state rice millers.

“We’ve seen a tremendous consolidation in our industry,” Morgan said, pointing to only five mills operating in the state.

“Our job is to enhance the value of the product,” he said.

Mike Salassi, head of the LSU AgCenter Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness, has followed the rice industry in Louisiana for many years.

He presented information on the economic impact of the Louisiana rice industry.

Half of U.S. rice production is exported, Salassi said. And gross farm value of rice in Louisiana is about $400 million annually.

With an economic impact multiplier for agriculture production for Louisiana at three, “every dollar’s worth of rice at the farm supports $3 in economic activity,” Salassi said.

In the past two years, the average value of rice production in Louisiana was $432 million per year, which means the Louisiana rice industry supports $1.3 billion in the state economic activity once all the economic impacts from other sectors of the economy influenced by rice production are accounted for, he said.

Developing new rice varieties is a focus of research at the rice research station, said Steve Linscombe, AgCenter southwest region director and rice breeder.

Linscombe enumerated the variety of research activities at the station and said “all of these research projects work together.”

Current research projects are looking at rice breeding and development at the DNA level.

“The genotyping lab lets you do plant breeding at the DNA level to determine if you have the genes you’re trying to develop,” Linscombe said.

In addition to work on the station, the AgCenter conducts research off-site at growers’ farms – some for more than 20 consecutive years, he said.

Much of the rice research is funded by farmer contributions. Farmers contribute 5 cents per hundredweight of rice produced, which provides $1.5 million for research, Loewer said. The fund was established in the 1970s.

John Owen, from Rayville, reported on the work of the Louisiana Rice Promotion Board and how its efforts expand the markets for Louisiana rice. Producers contribute 3 cents for every 100 pounds of rice they market.

One target of U.S. promotion is China. “China is a huge milled rice market,” Owen said. “China does not have enough water and arable land to satisfy their needs.”