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Floods that saturated Louisiana also damaged its seed rice

Janet Mcconnaughey, Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- The floods that inundated Louisiana in August also damaged rice harvested as seed for this year's planting.

Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain says he's temporarily relaxed certification requirements to ensure farmers can buy enough seed for a chance at a good crop.

Planting season begins in March.

Farmers will have to buy more of some lots to make up for the problem, but sellers will discount the price to make up for it, department seed programs director Lester Cannon said Tuesday.

"The growers should not have increased cost in seed," he said.

Wet conditions during harvest and subsequent processing caused the problem, Cannon said, though his lab is still testing for details. The seed laboratory tests rice to see what percentage of seeds sprout in the lab, and certifies lots with at least an 80 percent rate.

This year, more grains than usual just aren't sprouting and some of those are attacked by mold or fungus, he said.

"Normally we see rice germinating in the upper 80s to lower 90s," he said. "Now a significant number is between the 60 and 80 percent range."

It's happening across several varieties, he said.

"Had we not discovered this, it could have resulted in a significant shortage of rice for the 2017 planting season and a more than $100 million loss for our rice farmers," Strain said in a news release. "It could have also put some of our rice farmers out of business."

Lots with germination rates below 80 percent will be labeled "substandard germination," Cannon said, and certified lots will be sold before the substandard lots.

He said non-certified rice averages 60 percent germination.

Louisiana is the No. 3 rice-growing state in the U.S., behind Arkansas, which grows about half the nation's crop, and California. Rice also is grown in Mississippi, Missouri and Texas.

Louisiana's 2014 rice crop brought in $492 million for 1,042 producers, with processors getting another $164 million, according to the LSU AgCenter.