Rice was not initially cultivated as a cash crop in Louisiana. Instead, Cajuns living in the prairie grew corn as their staple grain and planted “providence rice,” which depended on rainfall - not irrigation. This labor-intensive plant was used primarily as an insurance crop in case the corn did not grow. Seed was sown in the mud by hand and buried with a piece of timber which was drawn over the land. Sometimes livestock were turned into the planted field to tramp the seed into the ground. The rice was cut by hand, placed on a platform, pounded with a club to separate the grain from the chaff and pounded again to remove the hull.
It wasn’t until the late 1800s when Midwestern immigrants introduced steam powered irrigation to western Louisiana that rice became a cash crop. While rice had been a part of the diet in Louisiana prior to that time, by the turn of the nineteenth century it was a staple across the state. In the prairie where cattle ranching was still practiced, it served as a base for beef gravy. Closer to the Gulf, it was a base for smothered seafood. In New Orleans it accompanied beans, and across the state, everyone ladled gumbo over rice.
In 2007, almost 370,000 acres were devoted to rice cultivation in Louisiana, with almost half of that located in Acadia, Jefferson Davis and Vermillion parishes. While 94% of that crop is long grain rice, farmers are beginning to explore cultivating medium and short grain rice as a means of competing in the international market.