Story by ALLISON "A.J" SABINE
On a blistering Monday afternoon, Tommy Frey finishes off the harvest on the last of his rice crop at his Acadia Parish farm northwest of Crowley.
As snowy egrets negotiate the combine for a good lunch, Frey’s crop is anything but good this year. Too much rain during flowering caused empty rice heads. Frey says his yield monitor indicates that he is cutting at least ten barrels below average.
“It’s going to be a bad year,” Frey said. “Rough to bad I would say. Yields are down, costs per acre is up. I mean, it’s just not going to be a very good year.”
Frey’s description of the 2015 rice crop echoes much of the sentiment felt both here in Louisiana and across the rice belt. Towards the end of harvest, yields are ranging from the low-to-mid 40’s in barrels per acre, where in normal years they’re 10 to 15 percent higher. The rains this year have brought disease pressure, especially from the fungal leaf blight cercospora.
“Cercospora and other problems that we faced hit us hard,” said Mark Tall, manager of the Louisiana Farm Bureau Rice Marketing office in Crowley. “We got a lot of rain this year during the flowering stages and that really hurt the yield as well.”
Quality is in focus as growers finish up this year’s first crop. While farmers don’t think the quality will be as bad as crop year 2010, Tall says that night time temperatures did not cause widespread chalk and breakage as it did back in 2010.
“Heat was a factor in 2010 as opposed to this year, but night-time temperatures were not as hot then either,” Tall said. “However, we had some good heat waves during the day this summer, too, so I think the quality will vary greatly.”
Compounding the situation for Frey is he also grows soybeans which were also disaffected by the weather this year. Soybeans were first inundated with rain and don’t grow well under flooded conditions. The dry spell in July put an end to many of the plants after such a rocky start.
“Our soybean crop right now, I mean, we have beans that are dying,” Frey said. “They are literally dying. Not cutting out—they are dying.”
What isn’t dying is Frey’s passion and will to farm. In a few weeks, he will cut a second crop of rice off the stalks that survived this year. Regardless of the outcome of that crop, he remains optimistic and said he’ll be back in the fields next year, come heat or high water.
“Yes you will have some good years, you will have bad years,” he said. “We’re just in a slump right now. A couple of years ago we were in a slump. But no, that does not affect me whatsoever. No, you don’t stop. You put your heart and soul into this and you just keep going.”