This fall, Delaplaine, Ark., rice producer Terry Gray had the best seat in the house during harvest — in the combine watching the yield monitor.

Gray averaged 168 bushels per acre across 1,100 acres of rice. But he saw the opportunity for even higher average yields as he harvested small test fields planted to new rice hybrids.

“We cut 211 bushels, dry, on the (RiceTec hybrid) XL8 field,” Gray said. “We like to see that yield monitor on the combine clicking 200 bushels. Even when you're in a bad spot in the hybrids, you'd only be down to 175 to 180 bushels.”

XL8 and XL7, RiceTec's latest offerings of hybrid rice, will be available in small quantities for the 2002 season, according the company. A spokesman says the hybrids have improved standability and milling yield over XL6, the first rice hybrid released commercially in the United States.

Gray, who water-seeded a test plot of XL7 in 2001 along with 25 acres of XL8, plans to plant at least 200 acres of XL8 in 2002, “and maybe a little XL7.”

Gray, whose best yield was 226 bushels per acre on a field of XL6, agrees that the new hybrids can claim some improvements over XL6. “XL8 was the hybrid that I really got a good look at. It has all the good things that you like about XL6, but doesn't have the things you don't like about it — the lodging and lower milling yield. XL8's milling yield is close to conventional varieties and standability is as good or better.”

RiceTec's hybrid seed costs are higher and milling discounts possible even with the new hybrids. But Gray figures he can offset them with higher yields and by cutting costs in other ways.

“We're not having to use any fungicide on XL8, where my other varieties are probably going to need one.”

XL6 required about half the nitrogen needed for conventional rice varieties, but Gray is not cutting back quite that much on XL8. Still he's saving some costs. “We go with a pretty heavy shot of nitrogen pre-flood, about 300 pounds on LaGrue, Bengal and Wells. We'll go with 240 pounds on XL8.”

Gray went with a 30-pound seeding rate on the XL8, far below the seeding rate on his conventional rice fields. “One of the amazing things is after it comes up to a stand, I can drive you around and I don't think you would be able to pick out the hybrid. It tillers so much.”

More on two new lines:

XL7 is a very-early-maturity hybrid. According to company testing on 24 farms, it averaged 27 bushels per acre more than Wells, Cocodrie and Drew, and it matured five to seven days ahead of Cocodrie. The average net economic benefit is estimated at $35 to $40 per acre based on historic yield trial results from RiceTec and university trials in 2001. Milling yields are similar to LaGrue. Standability rating is moderate.

XL8 is an early-maturity hybrid. According to company testing on 24 farms, it averaged 31 bushels per acre more than Wells, Cocodrie and Drew in 2001, while maturing one day earlier than Cocodrie. The hybrid is widely adapted to all soil types and geographies. The average net economic benefit for XL8 is $40 to $45 per acre, based on historic yield results from RiceTec and university trials in 2001.

The analysis for both hybrids is based on current rice prices plus loan deficiency payment.

According to RiceTec sales manager Jim Thompson, the higher seed costs of hybrid rice are also included in the economic benefits analysis. For 2002, “XL6 will be priced at a level somewhat lower than in the previous two years. XL7 will have an additional seed cost (over conventional rice varieties) of $47 per acre, while XL8 will have an additional seed cost of $56 per acre.”

Recommended planting rates for both new hybrids are 30 pounds per acre — approximately 14 seeds per square foot.

Recommended planting dates for the Mid-South are April 1-25, or when soil temperature at planting depth is at least 65 degrees.

RiceTec's nitrogen recommendation for the new hybrids will include a pre-flood application, plus a late-boot to 5-percent heading treatment.

RiceTec recommends that farmers limit any new hybrid to 10 percent of their individual farm acres.


e-mail: erobinson@primediabusiness.com.