What’s more, about half of the Mid-South’s 2003 rice acreage is expected to be planted in Cocodrie. In Mississippi, that figure could reach 70 percent this year, according to Joe Street, Extension rice specialist at the Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville, Miss.

Where does that leave rice growers? Should any, or all, of these factors affect variety selection?

The short answer, Street says, is that growers will, and should, continue to choose varieties based on yield potential. “When we analyze rice varieties based on their economic value to growers, yield potential is consistently the most important factor in that equation,” he says.

“Yield and milling quality are where the premiums are for growers.”

According to Mississippi’s state variety trials, the state’s highest yielding variety in 2002 was Wells, followed by Frances, Cocodrie, Priscilla, Saber, Ahrent and Lemont, in that order.

The results from an annual economic study of Delta rice production, which helps growers determine which variety would offer the highest net return on their production investment, are somewhat similar.

Using three-year yield averages, milling yield data, and factoring in a “worst case” production scenario, the economic analysis obtains a net profit or loss for each variety. “We include everything we could figure that you are going to spend in a worst case scenario, such as labor, extra hauling for extra yield, any and all possible fungicide applications, a stinkbug treatment and a water weevil treatment,” says Street.

According to the analysis, the most economical variety you can grow is Wells, followed by Priscilla, and then Cocodrie. In 2002, the net return on Wells was $114 per acre, compared to $101 per acre for Priscilla, $88 per acre for Cocodrie, and $47 per acre for Lemont. What the study discovered is that Lemont, while possibly the cheapest rice variety to produce, is also one of the lowest yielding varieties available.

“Growers should think twice about planting any varieties that fall below Cocodrie or Priscilla in either state variety trials or our economic analysis, unless you’ve got a serious red rice problem,” says Street.

However, according to Ray Brewer, a buyer for Uncle Ben’s Rice, their varieties of choice, in order of preference, are Dixie Belle, Lemont, Priscilla, Cypress, Wells, and then Cocodrie. “We’ve found that Cocodrie does not work well in our facility, and we find it less than acceptable,” says Brewer.

“We only parboil long grain rice, which is rice that has been converted from its original form, and we maintain the identity of the rice by variety and by age. All of this is done in our Greenville, Miss., processing facility,” he says. “We are continually testing new varieties at our processing plant, but we require both Uncle Ben’s quality and sufficient volume to test a new rice variety.”

Until processing facilities offer a premium to plant their desired varieties, however, growers seem likely to continue planting only those varieties that offer the highest yield potential and the greatest net return.

Street says “Dixie Belle is planted only by contract for Uncle Ben’s contract growers, and statewide acreage of the variety totals less than 1,000 acres each year. We’re also not going to grow much Lemont in Mississippi, because of the low potential economic returned offered by that variety.”

For more information on the economic of various rice varieties specific to your farm, visit www.msstate.edu/dept/drec and click on “Rice Variety Selection for 2003.”

e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com