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La. rice farmers increase crop as prices rise
Baton Rouge, LA, April 18, 2004
Riding more than a year of resurgent prices, Louisiana's rice growers are planting more this year and spreading the wealth a bit, especially in the Acadiana region that makes up the bulk of state rice acreage.
The rice season is in its early stages, but industry observers say they believe the year looks promising.

Kyle McCann, commodity director for the Louisiana Farm Bureau, said that while rice farmers aren't seeing "roaringly great times," they are pumping more money into their local areas as they upgrade equipment and plant more rice.

"You should see a positive signal for the rural economy," he said. "Some farmers are turning loose now."

State rice acreage, after suffering a drop of nearly 15 percent to 455,000 acres, has picked up more than 16 percent to an expected 530,000 acres this year.

State Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom said increasing prices are driving the recovery, but said he wants the entire rice industry, growers and mills, to share in it.

More foreign countries are willing to take U.S. rice without having it go through the mills first, which has put increasing financial pressure on Louisiana's mills, he said.

Odom said Louisiana's rice farmers shouldn't be "short-sighted" and should try to take care to make sure state rice mills stay in the money mix.

McCann said that, generally, the international market for rice is strong, even without the Iraqi rice market that Louisiana growers want to enter.

Before trade sanctions began in the early 1990s, Iraq was the top importer of U.S. rice, with a particular taste for Louisiana varieties.

U.S. rice interests have pushed to get the food aid contracts through the United Nations for Iraq, thus far without success.

Rice producers have said they've gotten indications Iraq will remember its old supplier when it returns to a free-market economy.

Even without the Iraqi or long-hoped-for Cuban markets, farmers have felt bolstered enough by price trends to start spending again, McCann said.

In 2002, a good growing year was marred by 40-year-lows in price, but those prices turned around in early 2003.

The strong price year last year, and the seeming stability of those price levels, have led farmers to start spending to cover old debt and buy new equipment, McCann said.

He said another bonus of the rice prices is that farmers will need less help from federal farm support programs.

With farmers getting more money from the market, they will need to lean less heavily on the support payments they depended on to get them through the leaner times, McCann said.
MGR Archive 18.4.2004
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