RiceTec cautious with rice hybrids A marketing campaign is supposed to urge as many customers as possible to rush out and buy the new product, right? Not necessarily. Rice producers interested in RiceTec's new rice hybrid, XL6, are being urged to take it nice and slow.

You can't blame RiceTec for endorsing such a cautious approach. First of all, raising a rice hybrid is not the same as raising a commercial rice variety. For example, recommended seeding and fertilizer rates for XL6 are slashed in half compared to non-hybrids. While the reduced seeding rate is almost immediately compensated for by good seed germination and vigorous tillering, the plant's pale color during the season gives rise to concern that's it's under-fertilized. That takes some getting used to.

But after the dust from harvesting has settled, XL6 will have put about 40 to 45 bushels more rice in the hopper, according to the company. That's enough to offset the higher seed costs and frequent problem of lower milling yields in XL6, which is the first of several new rice hybrids moving through RiceTec's product pipeline.

The bottom line is that RiceTec claimed a net advantage of about $76 an acre on 22 on-farm tests in Arkansas and Missouri in 1999. In 2000, the advantage was $55 an acre. Growers in Arkansas did report problems with lodging in 2000, however.

The problem of low milling yield "can be corrected through the parboiling process," according to Robin Andrews, president and CEO of Rice Tec, Inc. "In parboiling, you soak and steam the paddy rice before you mill it. That heals the fractures in the grains."

During the first few years of testing and commercial rice production of XL6, RiceTec service personnel were frequently in grower fields to help producers follow the unique recommendations required for growing XL6.

According to RiceTec seed sales manager Jim Thompson, in 2001, RiceTec will move its in-field personnel into regional positions and train area seed distributors on the hybrid production system. The distributors will handle most of the service needs and all of the seed ordering for XL6. This will allow RiceTec to expand acreage of XL6 without sacrificing service.

RiceTec's eventual goal for XL6 is to gain a 10 to 20 percent marketshare of rice acreage in the Mid-South, primarily Arkansas, Missouri and Mississippi. RiceTec is directing its marketing efforts at a select group of large growers - those who are technically-oriented, willing to plant stale seedbed or minimum-till, have access to planting equipment that will precision plant seed, and have access to on-site storage. RiceTec is asking that growers limit XL6 to around 10 percent of their acreage.

It's too early to say whether or not new, high-yielding rice hybrids will restore a King Midas Touch to rice production in the Mid-South. But whatever happens, it will have the blessings of a prince.

The RiceTec group of companies, RiceTec AG, RiceTec, Inc., and RiceSelect, Ltd., are owned by none other that Prince Hans-Adam II, better known as the Prince of Liechtenstein. Principal agricultural products of Liechtenstein include corn, vegetables, livestock, wheat, grapes and potatoes. The country, not quite as large as Washington, D.C. , was founded in 1719.

While RiceTec is the first company in the world to develop rice hybrids for mechanized farming, China lays claim to being the first to develop rice hybrid seed for hand-labor production systems. Rice hybrids are now grown on over half of China's 75 million rice acres.

In 1980, in collaboration with a Chinese breeding operation, RiceTec established a hybrid rice breeding program and today RiceTec has an extensive germplasm collection at its facility in Alvin Texas. In coming years, RiceTec will release more hybrid rice varieties.

RiceSelect, Ltd., also based in Alvin, markets specialty rice products, such as American-grown basmati and risotto rice. It contracts with local, Texas growers to produce the varieties, then mills, packages and markets the products.