The ratoon rice crop could be a near-total loss in Texas and Louisiana after the wrath of Hurricane Harvey subsides. The vast majority of Gulf Coast rice was harvested before the arrival of Harvey, but with water still rising, questions remain over storage conditions and second crop rice.
“I estimate 80% of the Texas rice crop (170,000 acres) was cut before the storm hit and the remainder is totally lost. Rain normally makes grain, but this is so much more than rain. Right now, it’s hard to really even know the condition of harvested rice. We’ve got broken communication, no electricity for some areas, and flooded storage in places. There are so many unknowns,” says Dwight Roberts, president and CEO of the U.S. Rice Producers Association (USRPA), located in Houston.
Texas and Louisiana are the only U.S. states capable of producing a second rice crop. After harvest, producers generally hit stubble with one application of fertilizer and cut again roughly 40 days later. Roberts expects heavy damage for the second crop: “I don’t know how many producers second-cropped, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the second cutting is a total loss. This is like something from a science fiction or end-of-the-world movie, except it’s real.”
Ted Wilson, director of the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Beaumont, has been locked out of the center since Sunday due to high water and flooded roads. At best, he expects ratoon crop yields to be severely diminished. “We’re talking about 50” of rain over just a few days. The ratoon crop east of Houston was already hit hard because of a wet spring and delayed planting. In the west, maybe the second crop could produce a little depending on how quickly soils dry,” he explains.
If the second cutting is indeed a general loss, the financial hit for Texas farmers will be substantial. “It’s a large part of their operations,” Wilson says. “In general, the first crop pays inputs and the second crop provides profit.”
Louisiana has 395,000 acres of rice in 2017; 75% in the southwest and 25% in the northeast. Southwest Louisiana is on the cusp of rice harvest completion, with approximately 10,000 yet to be cut, according to Dustin Harrell, Louisiana State University AgCenter rice specialist. However, the northeast region of the state has just started harvest and could face lodging, shattering, and general damage, depending on how much rain arrives.
Economically, the ratoon crop is vital to Louisiana’s Gulf Coast growers, but water over the first cutting can kill the stubble. Yields are typically lower in southwest Louisiana with higher disease pressure and a tougher environment, compared with growing conditions in northeast Louisiana or Arkansas, according to Harrell.
“Traditionally, producers break even on the first crop and profit on the second crop,” Harrell adds. “Then again, it seems the past three years have required the first and second crop just to break even.”