AUSTIN, Ark. — Some of the 2002 rice yield comparison data are starting to be published, and before long there information from several sources will be available.

The first I have seen is from a presentation by Rick Cartwright, University of Arkansas plant pathologist, to a group of Clearfield rice seed producers. Rick reported results from 10 replicated on-farm trials from around Arkansas.

The average yields for CL 121 and CL 161 were 157 and 155 bushels per acre respectively. This compared to 169, 169 and 181 bushels per acre for Cocodrie, Wells and Francis respectively.

The comparative yield data for those two Clearfield varieties were roughly 10 bushels per acre better in 2002 than they were when compared to the same top standard varieties in 2001. The CL 141 variety did not perform on par with the other two in these trials.

There are several ways to look at the yield data from these trials. First, the top two Clearfield varieties performed much better in 2002. They are obviously good enough to plant with confidence that you can expect a good yield. On the other hand the yields lagged 12 to 14 bushels per acre behind those of Wells and Cocodrie and 24 to 26 bushels per acre behind those of Francis.

If one looks short-term or just at the 2003 growing season, the potential yield differences combined with the increased production cost associated with the Clearfield system make the economics appear unfavorable for fields with red rice infestations below threshold yield and grade loss levels.

I would submit that you should look longer-term. As I stated last week, if we continue to only use Clearfield rice in the worst red rice infestations while allowing the scattered infestations to increase, you will just chase the red rice from field to field. In addition the out-crossing potential will be much higher and will likely render the technology useless for you in a few short years.

I agree that the severe infestations need cleaning up. However, I also believe the best way to use the Clearfield technology is to rotate to it in the fields with the light (even the next rice crop after red rice has first appeared) to moderate infestations. In these situations, there is an excellent chance that by planting Clearfield rice, and then rotating to Roundup Ready soybeans, that a standard variety could be grown red rice-free the third year.

This way, you have an excellent chance of stopping the red rice before it ever gets a good start. You also have an excellent chance of keeping the out-crossing potential near zero.

I am not an economist, but I believe you must compare beyond 2003. If one just compares the economics of Clearfield versus a good conventional variety in 2003, the Clearfield system will not look good. If you compare across the three years of the program described above, substituting a Clearfield variety for a conventional variety one year, the economics look much better.

If one throws in some sort of SWAG factor for what the red rice may be costing after it gets worse for three years in the absence of Clearfield, the economics might look even better.

I am not selling Clearfield rice; I am after red rice. It appears to me that if one looks long-term, the economics are getting close enough to go after the problem when it is first getting started. You'll have a much better chance of winning the battle.

Ford Baldwin, Practical Weed Consultants. e-mail: ford@weedconsultants.com.