Francis, a new rice variety (often dubbed “super rice”) from the University of Arkansas, will be available to producers as registered seed this year.
“Last year, about 2,500 acres of seed were grown. That means there should be enough available to plant about 200,000 acres,” says Karen Moldenhauer, a rice breeder stationed at the Rice Research and Extension Center in Stuttgart, Ark.
A high-yielding long-grain variety, Francis is shorter than both LaGrue and Wells. Among Francis' parents are Lebonnet, LaGrue, Dawn and Starbonnet.
Moldenhauer says Francis has higher yield potential than LaGrue and Wells with similar susceptibility to the major rice diseases. Grain yields have averaged 4 bushels per acre better than Wells and 12 bushels per acre better than LaGrue in studies over a three-year period.
The head rice yield potential of Francis has also been slightly better than LaGrue and Wells in most tests and appears to be more stable across environments. A fact sheet on Francis will soon be posted on the Arkansas Extension Website (www.uaex.edu).
Chuck Wilson, Arkansas Extension rice specialist and author of the fact sheet, says everything a farmer needs to know about managing Francis is on the sheet.
Wilson believes that Francis could be a “high-impact variety” in the rice industry, adding that varieties with high impact don't come along often. In some cases, farmers can exceed 200 bushels with Francis.
“We've gotten as much as 235 bushels in test plots. By comparison, the statewide average yield was 143 bushels an acre last year,” says Wilson.
Included in the fact sheet is a summary of how Francis stacks up against other varieties, as well as data about yield, milling, agronomic characteristics, suggested seeding rates and planting dates, fertilizer, disease and fungicide needs and DD-50 information.
Among Francis traits:
- Seeding date studies suggest that Francis' yield potential is stable across a wide range of seeding dates, but, as with most other currently grown varieties, yields tend to be higher when planted earlier. Francis performs well when planted late compared to other conventional varieties (after June 1). Growers should be aware, however, that the conditions favoring rice blast are more likely in late-planted rice. For that reason, Francis shouldn't be planted in fields favorable to blast, regardless of planting date.
- Besides blast, Francis is rated “very susceptible” to kernel smut, “susceptible” to false smut, and “moderately susceptible” to straighthead and sheath blight.
- The grain weight and seed dimensions of Francis are slightly less than those of Wells and LaGrue. Straw strength is similar to that of Wells and LaGrue, but Francis is approximately 2 inches shorter than Wells and 5 inches shorter than LaGrue.
- Seedling vigor tests have not been performed. However, visual observations in variety studies suggest that Francis has good seedling vigor and is comparable to LaGrue. Moldenhauer says the use of fungicide and/or gibberellic acid seed treatments is advised when seeding at reduced rates, early seed dates, poor seedbed conditions, no-till seedbeds, and on clay soils.
- Francis was named in honor of Francis J. Williams (1923-2001), director of the Stuttgart's Rice Research and Extension Center from 1953 to 1988.
“My sense is there is tremendous interest in this variety — more so than any variety I've encountered in my career,” says Rick Cartwright, Arkansas Extension plant pathologist. “I've had a million questions from farmers about Francis.
“The thing about Francis,” says Cartwright, “is that it has some disease risks, but no more than some of the other high-yielding varieties. Most of the disease risks can be managed with good cultural practices.
“We manage it for blast just like Wells. You put it in good fields and you manage it to minimize risks. It's susceptible to kernel smut like LaGrue, but it can be treated with an inexpensive fungicide in the boot stage.
“It has relatively good tolerance to straighthead, unlike Cocodrie. It's an improvement in that arena.”
The cross for Francis was made in 1993, says Moldenhauer.
“It's taken nine years to get Francis to a place where it could be released. Normally, it takes eight to 10 years to get a variety out after the initial cross, so Francis is right in that timeframe. It used to take us 12 to 14 years to get a new variety out. So the window has shrunk considerably.”
And Moldenhauer says there are other varieties in the pipeline.
“That's always the case. Right now, we're working with a LaGrue-type variety with blast resistance. We'll possibly have a foundation seed field for it this year.”