Nicholson, who farms more than 11,000 acres with his dad, two brothers, son and a cousin, saw a good-sized portion of his farm near Beedeville go under water when the Cache River flooded last spring.

As it was, Nicholson lost 40 acres of XP712, an experimental medium-grain hybrid from RiceTec. But he was able to keep enough – 60 acres – to help him see that XP712 could have a place in the 5,000 acres of rice he and his family typically grow every year.

“It just kept raining during the spring,” said Nicholson, who was interviewed in the field of XP712 on his Jackson County farm in northeast Arkansas toward the end of the growing season. “We were beginning to wonder if we would have a crop. But this XP712 looks real good now.”

After the rice was ready for harvest, Nicholson cut 190 bushels of rice, green weight, per acre off the field of XP712. That worked out to 173 bushels dry.

“It looked real thin after it came up (the field was planted April 3),” he said. “Of course, we planted light – 29 pounds of seed per acre – as RiceTec recommended. But then it stooled out and got real thick.

“My Dad, J.D. Nicholson, who is 74, said he didn’t know how this was going to work out, especially since this wasn’t some of our better land.”

Sam Nicholson had three varieties from RiceTec – the 60 acres of XP712, 330 acres of XL 8 and 314 acres of XP1002 – on his farm in 2003. XL 8 is a high-yielding, early-season, medium-grain hybrid grown in the Mid-South in 2002. XP1002 is another new experimental long-grain hybrid that RiceTec is evaluating.

Nicholson’s experience with the long-grain XL8 hybrid has convinced him to plant several hundred acres of Clearfield XL8 in 2004 to help control red rice on his farm. With the addition of these hybrids to his farm he will be growing four RiceTec hybrids in 2004.

“Both of the experimental varieties looked good this year,” said Nicholson. “We keep hoping we will have something like a normal season one of these years so that we can give them a good test.”

On a farm just outside Grubbs, Ark., Keith Kinard grew 20 acres of XP 712 in a nitrogen validation trial that compared the experimental rice with Bengal, a medium-grain variety developed in Louisiana.

The XP712 plots produced an average of 222 bushels of rice – dry weight – per acre with the recommended rate of nitrogen. The Bengal plots averaged 202 bushels per acre with same amount of nitrogen. The milling average on the XP712 was 64-69 and on the Bengal, 66-70.

“I think we hit the nail on the head with the nitrogen rate here,” said Kinard. “I think this could be a very good variety for us.”

Kinard, who farms with his dad and an uncle in Jackson and Poinsett Counties in northeast Arkansas, said the XP712 appeared to be slightly shorter. “I think the straw strength will be a little better,” he noted. “I think I like the XP712 better than Bengal.

“But we’ll know more when we get a combine in it.”

A harvest of 222 bushels per acre dry weight provided a good answer, he said.

Nicholson and Kinard are among a number of Mid-South producers who participated in RiceTec’s product evaluation program in 2003. The company is taking a hard look at XP710, a high-yielding long grain variety, and XP712, a prime medium-grain candidate for release.

“We take customers who have grown hybrid rice in the past, give them our new experimentals and let them weigh in on whether they go forward,” said John Nelsen, general manager of RiceTec’s Seed Business Unit, which is based in Alvin, Texas.

Nelsen says XP712 has been shown to have excellent disease tolerance along with its high yields in grower and university trials.

“In one field near Crowley, La., XP712’s yields were superior to Bengal’s,” he said. “But the Bengal had been sprayed with a fungicide twice, and the XP712 not at all.” (After the ratoon crop was harvested, the XP712 yielded more than 40 bushels per acre than the Bengal grown beside it.)

XP710 has also been displaying good potential in many parts of the central Rice Belt, according to Nelson. “It was the highest yielding variety ever in the Texas A&M University trials, and it’s blown the top out of the yields in our trials.”

In the University of Arkansas regional yield trial, XP710 and XP712 out-yielded all other entries with 235 bushels and 217 bushels per acre yields, compared to 164 and 174 bushels per acre for Cocodrie and Bengal in the same tests. The second crop potential is great for both these hybrids also, commonly yielding from 100 to 125 bushels per acre in Louisiana and Texas.

In this year’s Texas trials, first crop yields averaged 230 bushels per acre dry weight with about 100 bushels per acre second crop.

“Because it is new, seed for XP710 is likely to be limited in 2004, maybe enough for 15,000 acres,” said Nelsen. “But it will be released only if the data indicates it is commercially viable or for an additional year of field evaluations.

“We are excited by what we’ve seen so far, however,” he noted. “We believe there are no better products on the market these days than these hybrids.

“Clearfield XL8 has also demonstrated tremendous yield potential with excellent red rice control on many Arkansas farms in 2003,” he added.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com