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Growing Crawfish With Rice Can Be Successful

By Bonnie Coblentz

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Growing crawfish with rice has become a common way to produce this popular shellfish, but the practice has been more successful in Louisiana than it has in Mississippi.

In 1997, Louisiana landed almost 23 million pounds of crawfish worth nearly $13 million. The state produced another 47 million pounds through aquaculture at a value of nearly $28 million. Much of this crawfish is consumed in the state, and very little leaves the South.

Atchafalaya Basin between Baton Rouge and Lafayette supplies the majority of Louisiana's wild crawfish. Farmed crawfish either are double-cropped with rice, produced without a rice harvest using a method known as set aside or raised in earthen ponds. At 18 inches deep, these ponds are much shallower than catfish ponds and allow the growth of rice.

Several Mississippi producers have tried these practices, but currently no one in the state regularly produces crawfish commercially.

Dr. Louis D'Abramo, aquaculture biologist with the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, said double cropping refers to growing and harvesting a forage crop, usually rice, and crawfish in the same pond.

Double cropping farmers plant rice in April, and six to eight weeks later flood the pond with about 18 inches of water. Fifty to 75 pounds of crawfish brood stock per acre are added to the pond to grow and reproduce. In August, the pond is drained, the crawfish burrow underground and the rice is harvested.

Crawfish burrow when water temperatures get too warm and when oxygen levels are low. They survive as long as their gills stay moist. The pond is reflooded after rice harvest.

"Rice that has been harvested still has a lot of stalks remaining which, as they decay, provide material which the crawfish feed on," D'Abramo said.

Producers harvest market-size crawfish from November to April after the rice has been harvested. The pond is then drained, rice is replanted and the process begins again in April. Generally, crawfish do not need to be restocked each year.

Growers harvest crawfish in baited traps placed after flooding the ponds. These pyramid-style traps have three openings for crawfish to enter. Baited traps are harvested on a routine schedule and the crawfish collected.

In set-aside production, rice is grown only to provide crawfish food. Growers usually plant in June, and the rice does not grow to maturity for harvest. The field is flooded in October, and crawfish are harvested from November to April.

This method allows ponds to be flooded in March or April, and crawfish are stocked earlier in the year. The pond is drained and rice planted in June.

"In a good pond with good management practices, crawfish can grow to market size in eight to 10 weeks," D'Abramo said.

A third method of crawfish aquaculture production currently under investigation uses ponds about 3 feet deep that offer cooler temperatures and less chance of oxygen depletion. Since rice cannot be grown in a pond of this depth, pelleted feed is given to the crawfish.

"This non-traditional method using catfish-style production ponds has higher production costs. However, compared to Louisiana where a good harvest is 800 to 1,000 pounds per acre annually, harvests from experimental ponds on the MAFES South Farm in Starkville generally exceed 2,000 pounds per acre each year," D'Abramo said. "Crawfish can be harvested for nine months with very little overlap with the Louisiana season, offering a tremendous marketing opportunity for Mississippi-grown crawfish. Sales in northern regions translate into a higher price per pound."

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Released: March 19, 1999
Contact: Dr. Louis D'Abramo, (601) 325-7492

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