At a recent company field day in Cleveland, RiceTec breeder Billy Woodruff explained the hybrid rice concept to growers and seed dealers. Varietal rice seed, he says, results from self-pollination within a single variety.

Hybrid rice, on the other hand, is really two varieties. It results from cross-pollination between two inbred parent lines, one of which is male-sterile (female) with no pollen. This “female” line then produces the hybrid seed.

“Hybrid plants from this cross have gene pairs made up of versions which are not the same. It is this non-identical gene pair situation that leads to hybrid vigor and often increased yield,” Woodruff says. “Hybrids strong tillering ability results in better weed control and higher yields.”

Harry Howarth of Cleveland has been testing rice hybrids on his farm for almost 10 years and is sold on what hybrids can offer growers. In fact, he’s growing 200 acres of Clearfield XL8 this year.

“I enjoy seeing new stuff come off on the ground floor,” he says. “The fields I’ve planted the Clearfield system in this year had plenty of red rice on it in years past, and I haven’t found one stalk of red rice on any of it this year.”

Nat McKnight, whose Cleveland family farm is also one of those field testing RiceTec’s hybrid Clearfield XL8, agrees, saying, “There was plenty of red rice in our fields in years past, and there isn’t any this year.”

Rice Tec says 8,000 acres of its Clearfield XL8 line were planted across the Mid-South and Texas in 2003, and the company will have “plenty” of seed available for the 2004 season. The Clearfield production system allows growers to use the BASF herbicide Newpath to control red rice in their rice fields.

“It’s not 100 percent, but it will control red rice,” says Bob Buchanan, a Mississippi sales representative with BASF. “If the moisture is there, and the timing is adequate, the system will control red rice. Where timing was pretty good, we’re probably running 80 to 90 percent red rice control.”

Joe Street, Mississippi Extension rice specialist, goes one step further saying the only red rice escapes he’s seen this year were caused by application problems rather than product-related problems.

Jim Thompson, sales manager for Rice Tec, says the company is tracking actual per acre production costs for standard rice varieties and Rice Tec hybrids in commercial field situations in 2003. The company’s per acre cost estimates include seed, herbicide, fertilizer, fungicide and insecticide costs for adjacent 38- and 80-acre fields in Cleveland.

According to company figures, it costs $242.08 per acre to produce Clearfield XL8, $175.16 per acre to produce Clearfield 161, and $206.64 per acre to produce Cocodrie.

When it comes to estimated per acre income, however, those figures change slightly. Based on RiceTec’s forecasted average yields and a market price of $3.90 per bushel including LDP, one acre of Clearfield XL8 should produce 225 bushels of rice per acre and income of $877.50. In comparison, the company says Clearfield 161 would yield 180 bushels per acre and $702 in income, and Cocodrie would yield 205 bushels per acre with income of $799.50.

Thompson says, “There is an opportunity here to carry this high-yielding production system, which combines hybrid rice and the Clearfield system, beyond those areas with serious red rice problems to fields with little or no red rice problems. The Clearfield XL8 hybrid offers a clear economic advantage even on moderate, light, or non-red rice fields.”

He challenges growers to stop thinking of RiceTec’s Clearfield XL8 as a product only for severe red rice infestations. “This hybrid will offer growers opportunities above and beyond red rice control.”

In addition to its Clearfield XL8 hybrid, RiceTec currently offers growers several choices in hybrids including XL7 and XL8.

Company officials say XL7, if planted early, will mature early allowing you to spread harvest, improving efficiency. The hybrid has also reportedly performed well in late planted situations behind wheat.

The hybrid XL8 is an early maturity selection, similar to Cocodrie with standard milling. It grows to about 40 inches in height, and offers excellent standability and straw strength.

The company’s product evaluation program on grower farms will ask participating growers to evaluate vigor, tillering, disease package, yield, lodging and milling of each rice hybrid at the end of this year’s growing season.

e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com