MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Hybrid rice with resistance to Newpath herbicide proved to be a dynamic combination for several rice producers who tested the product in 2002. But can growers offset the anticipated higher cost of two premium technologies with more yield and reduced weed control costs?

That's the question many growers, including Rich Hillman, Carlisle, Ark. are asking. In 2002, Hillman raised 10 acres of Clearfield XL-8 — RiceTec's XL-8 hybrid combined with Clearfield's Newpath resistance.

"The rice really yielded well," Hillman said. "The milling yields of hybrids had been keeping me away from them. But there has been some improvement (with XL-8). It's not up to a Cocodrie or a Wells, but it's close."

Hillman says he will raise the Clearfield XL-8 again next year "in fields where I have a red rice problem. I haven't heard what the initial seed costs are going to be. If it's too expensive, I won't be able to use it."

At the time of this writing, a pricing plan for Clearfield hybrids had not been determined, according to John Nelson, executive vice president and general manager, RiceTec, which markets hybrid rice. But the company is working on it.

"As with any new technology, we are certainly very cognizant that the farmer needs to recognize an economic benefit from these new technologies. We're going to stay very sensitive to that."

Hillman was impressed with the weed control potential of the Clearfield system, marketed by BASF. In fact, he raised Clearfield CL 121 in 2002 "on a few acres. I know that the CL 121 won't yield as well as the CL 141 and CL 161 varieties. But as to the red rice control, I was very surprised. It wiped everything out."

Water management was crucial with the Clearfield system, according to Hillman. "As soon as you apply Newpath, you can't wait on a rain. You start the wells and flush. That makes a heck of a difference. We tried to get out the second shot of Newpath when the red rice was two- to three-leaf. After that, you never let the ground get dry. If it does, you'll have germination and escapes."

The herbicide-resistant technology is coming at a good time, according to Hillman. "Number one, I have fields that are too expensive to go out and zero grade (to improve red rice control). And there really hasn't been a way to control red rice and still keep my rice rotation (one year in soybeans/one year in rice). Even with Roundup Ready soybeans, you're going to have red rice out there. The Clearfield technology is one of the few options we have (to allow a one year in/one year out rotation).

"Number two, even for the farmers who don't have red rice, propanil-resistant grass and other resistant grass is starting to show up across the state. The Newpath technology will work into the rotation and will help with that also.

"If we can get the cost closer to the cost of conventional seed — Clearfield rice is going to be some of the cheapest grass control you can have on your farm."

University research indicates yield increases in hybrid rice of as much 25 percent over varietal rice. However, Nelson stressed that yield expectations for a hybrid "need to be tailored to an individual farm or even an individual field and to the previous yield history of the field."

In small plot work in Mississippi "we cut 246 bushels with XP701 (the experimental number for Clearfield XL-8)," said Tim Walker, post-doctoral associate under Extension rice specialist Joe Street. That compared to 245 bushels for XL-8, 195 bushels for Clearfield CL 161 and Cocodrie at 180 bushels. "We're usually 10 percent to 15 percent higher in our small plot work," Walker said.

"If you have a red rice problem, these Clearfield varieties will pay for themselves and begin to clean up the red rice problem," Walker said of the Clearfield technology. "Early on, we were not seeing yields like we wanted to see, but here in the last couple of years, CL 121 has yielded well for us and CL 161 is even higher."

First-crop yields of both XL-8 and Clearfield XL-8 "were excellent," said John Gaulding, a rice producer in Winnie, Texas.

"We did a strictly volunteer second growth," Gaulding said. "I flooded up for duck hunters, came back after the season, drained the field and cut about 5 barrels (810 pounds) an acre. But the field was rutted up from the first harvest with the combines running back and forth cutting fertilizer test plots, so it wasn't a very good indication of what it could do with a second crop.

Gaulding was able to put out only one application of Newpath because of all the different rice lines in the field.

"That pre-emergence application, followed up by Stam, Facet and a grass herbicide later, was sufficient. There was no visible red rice in the field. It wasn't a bad red rice field, but right across the levee we had a field of XL-8 that did have red rice. I was very impressed with just the one application."

On-farm studies in Arkansas indicated that Clearfield XL-8 "performed similarly to XL-8. It looked very positive," said Arkansas Extension plant pathologist Rick Cartwright. "I think it could be a winner if there is enough seed availability and the economics are worked out. With the amount of red rice we've had and the interest in Clearfield technology, this could help."

Clearfield XL-8 and XL-8 topped Cartwright's yield trials at 200 bushels per acre and 194 bushels per acre respectively, across 10 sites. The closest competitors included: Francis, 181 bushels; LaGrue, 177 bushels; and Cocodrie, 169 bushels.

According to Jim Thompson, national sales manager for RiceTec, developing Clearfield hybrid rice "was an opportunity to combine the performance traits of a hybrid with the Clearfield system. And with Clearfield not being a GMO, we viewed it as a perfect marriage."

According to Thompson, Clearfield XL-8, like XL-8, is a long grain rice hybrid with a plant height similar to Wells, leaf color similar to Drew, excellent standability with milling characteristics similar to Wells. Maturity is a day or two earlier than Cocodrie. Ratoon crop yields are also significantly higher than varietal yields.

"In general, the Clearfield XL-8 will carry the same disease resistance as we've enjoyed with our other hybrids, which is a step above varietal rice.

"We're also looking at less need for fungicide treatment throughout the course of the year," Thompson said. "That's not saying we would never have to put fungicides out. There are going to be times when we reach threshold levels. But the percentage of the time where treatments are necessary has proven to be less in the hybrids than in the varieties."

Rice lines with the combined technology will be available in limited supplies in 2003, marketed as Clearfield XL-8. The focus of the limited release will be on current hybrid rice producers, according to Thompson. "We will target some selective innovative growers to receive some volume so we can get a broad market entry."

e-mail: erobinson@primediabusiness.com.