Bird problems frustrate La. rice farmers

Bruce Schultz, LSU Ag Center
Tuesday, April 30, 2013 - 1:58pm

Southwest Louisiana farmers are frustrated this year with a larger-than-usual number of birds eating rice seed, causing many farmers to replant.

In addition to the expense of replanting, farmers are also spending money on shotgun shells and propane scare devices in an effort to keep the blackbirds and waterfowl away from their newly planted fields.

“This is the worst year for birds I’ve seen in the past 10 or 12 years,” said Steve Linscombe, director of the LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station.

One of the off-station research plots was ruined by birds eating the seed out of the ground, and two other sites had significant damage, Linscombe said. Large numbers of blue-winged teal and spoonbills remained in southwest Louisiana this spring.

Barrett Courville, LSU AgCenter county agent in Acadia and Jefferson Davis parishes, said many farmers chose to wait until a bird repellent, AV-1011, was available. “That delayed planting by a couple of weeks.”

Birds don’t eat the treated seed because the chemical gives off a disagreeable taste.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency granted a temporary Section 18 approval for AV-1011 for a limited amount of Louisiana rice acres this year.

Courville is urging farmers to write to the EPA to express support for the repellent and its important role in growing rice.

A farmer had an airplane fly a small amount of seed treated with AV-1011 into a field that had already been planted, and that strategy worked, said LSU AgCenter rice specialist Johnny Saichuk. “It kept them from having to replant.”

Large populations of ducks have also been found as far north as Evangeline Parish, Saichuk said. “One field had at least 300 teal.”

Farmers also use scare devices that use propane to produce a loud noise to frighten birds from fields, but those devices have caused complaints.

At the Louisiana Rice Growers Association Board of Directors meeting April 24, farmer Jerry Leonards said the Acadia Parish Police Jury had considered restricting propane scare devices after complaints by residents living near rice fields. But he said the Police Jury reconsidered after learning about the state Right to Farm law that protects farmers from regulations that would restrict their use of acceptable agricultural practices. In addition, he said, farmers and landowners turned out against the proposal.

Leonards said his bird problems have been worse this year than ever. “I’m waiting on the ducks to leave before I plant in the water on one field.”

Farmer Jimmy Hoppe, of Fenton, said he shot 15 cases of shotgun shells to scare birds away in the area around his farm.

A farmer in his area had to replant because of the bird problem, Hoppe said. “He replanted that, and the birds ate that.”

Also at the rice growers meeting, the board:

– Re-elected President John Owen, Vice President Jeffrey Sylvester and Secretary-Treasurer Jim Watkins.

– Agreed to send a letter of concern to American Rice Inc. of Texas related to the importation of 10,000 tons of Vietnamese rice.

– Learned from rice farmer Jeff Durand of St. Martin Parish that the Natural Resources Conservation Service is considering payments to farmers for flooding fields for a second crop in compensation for creating waterfowl habitat.

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