STUTTGART, Ark. – The University of Arkansas has released three rice varieties that are expected to figure big in the plans of farmers over the next several years.

Chuck Wilson, Cooperative Extension Service rice specialist, said the three new varieties are Banks, Cybonnet and Medark. All three varieties are in seed production this year. Registered seed will be available next year, and certified seed will be widely available to farmers in 2006.

The three varieties were made possible by funding provided by the Arkansas Rice Research and Promotion Board.

"Banks is a long-grain, LaGrue-type rice with high yield potential, blast resistance and acceptable milling quality," Wilson said.

He said Cybonnet, a long-grain, semi-dwarf variety has good yield potential, blast resistance and excellent milling quality. It also has better tolerance to straighthead disease than Cocodrie, which is grown more than 20 percent of Arkansas rice acreage.

The third new variety is Medark a medium-grain, semi-dwarf rice with similar grain yield and milling yield potential as Bengal, but with slightly better blast resistance and straighthead tolerance.

Banks was named after the late Heartsill Banks, the first director of the U of A Rice Research and Extension Center at Stuttgart.

"It has matched the best yield potential of our best long-grain rice with the added benefit of resistance to blast, a major disease that hurts some farmers every year," Wilson said. "A limited amount of seed will be available in 2005." He estimated 1 to 3 percent of Arkansas rice next year could be planted in Banks and more in 2006.

"Quite a few people will be growing it. It's tall, but some growers like taller rice. Its main advantage is blast resistance."

Cybonnet has genes from Cypress, Newbonnet and Katy. It's the first semi-dwarf, long-grain variety released from the University of Arkansas. Wilson expected it to be among the highest milling varieties available. "It's comparable to Cocodrie, the popular semi-dwarf variety created at Louisiana State University."

Medark stands for medium-grain and Arkansas.

Wilson said, "It was named that way so you'd know which one of the three new varieties was the medium-grain. It's also a semi-dwarf. It's comparable to Bengal in yield maturity and height. Its main advantage is that it has better blast resistance and straighthead tolerance and perhaps is easier to harvest and thrash than Bengal."

Wilson believes Cybonnet ultimately could replace Cocodrie and, to a lesser degree, Drew and Ahrent. Banks will replace Ahrent and Drew and some LaGrue acreage. Medark is expected to replace some Bengal acreage.

Karen Moldenhauer, a rice breeder at the rice center, developed Banks, formerly known as RU-1188.

"It's mainly LaGrue with blast resistance," she said in a 2003 interview. "You can expect 200 bushels or more per acre." She said Banks has "three doses" of LaGrue and a dose of a blast resistant variety.

James Gibbons, another rice breeder, developed Cybonnet and Medark. Cybonnet, formerly RU-1124, has produced yields of up to 200 bushels an acre in experimental plots at the rice center, Gibbons said.

Medark, formerly RU-1151, is a medium-grain, semi-dwarf variety that is a cross between Bengal and short Rico. The cross was originally made by former UA breeder, Kenneth Gravois.

Gibbons said a lot of medium-grain rice is used in cereal. He said cereal makers have told him they like the uniformity of Medark's grain.

Lamar James is Extension communications specialist with the University of Arkansas.

e-mail: ljames@uaex.edu