Just south of Dewitt, Ark., John Alter says he's growing a new variety that will fit into many Arkansas rice farmers' future plans. The variety, Ahrent, is a rookie in the rice big leagues. So far, it has shown great promise.

“What I've seen of it so far — in light of my knowledge of the market and what farmers want — this looks like an excellent variety. The shorter height is very nice and will have a broader acceptance than other varieties. The heavier soils will even take to this one, which is a big issue farmers want covered,” says Alter, a foundation seed rice farmer.

Ahrent has tillered extremely well. Alter planted it at 18 pounds (far below Extension recommendations) and was nervous for the first month of the season due to the low seeding rate. He drilled the crop with a 10-inch spacing drill at about 15 pounds per acre with the balance on the levee.

“It depended on where you looked, but we had between 5 and 10 seeds per square foot. Extension recommends 40 seeds, so we were at less than a quarter of that. I'm very pleased by what we have here. I was wringing my hands for a while. But all my worry was for nothing because it's performed incredibly well. Of course, we've yet to get the yield numbers off it, but it's looking good.”

In looking at the panicle, “Ahrent looks like Drew and Kaybonnet,” says Brad Koen, Arkansas Extension rice agronomist.

Standing in a field looking at a rice plant he's just pulled, Alter says the plant has 13 tillers. “It does the job. I have some areas where it wound up a bit thicker and I hurt myself with early floods. But overall it's performed great, and even that low seeding rate filled out the field,” says Alter.

When Koen first saw Ahrent, he was a bit skeptical.

“I knew it was good, but I thought it was just a cousin to Drew. It looked very similar and made me wonder if there'd be a place for it in the market,” says Koen.

Ahrent — named for Martha Ahrent, a leading figure in the state for ag-related causes — has been in the breeding pipeline since 1983. At a meeting last winter, it was decided to release Ahrent as a variety. At the time, Koen still couldn't figure out what rice breeder Karen Moldenhauer was so excited about. He's since changed his mind.

“I've been able to look at it side-by-side with Drew in several demonstration plots around the state. The truth is, I underestimated Ahrent. It's a lot shorter than Drew and instead looks a lot like Cocodrie. As a matter of fact, up until heading, it looks almost identical to Cocodrie. And that's the size plant that farmers south of the Arkansas River love. Farmers across the state like a shorter plant, but when you get below the river, farmers really want a short-statured plant.”

Koen says the good thing about Drew is its ability to withstand blast and maintain good milling quality. But the black eye for Drew is it gets tall and is prone to lodge.

“I think Ahrent is going to give us a slight yield advantage over Drew; it'll stand for us and it still has the blast resistance. I don't think it'll be the leading variety in the state — where Drew was a couple of years ago. But I think it'll eventually be grown on as much as 15 to 20 percent of the state's acreage.”

On heavier soils, fertility tends to run a little higher, says Alter. If you're going to have a lodging problem, it makes sense it would be in the heavier Southern soils.

“So farmers want a shorter plant on their farms, which tend to have larger acreages than those in the central part of the state,” says Alter.

Alter has had his hand in the rice market for many years. He knows what other farmers want in a variety, and plant height is a huge issue that Ahrent addresses. “You get outside Arkansas, Prairie and Monroe counties — outside the prairie soils and into heavier soils — and farmers don't want the taller varieties.”

Koen says Ahrent is the shortest long-grain Arkansas release to date.

“When Lemont died, so to speak, farmers had Cypress and Cocodrie to take its place. But there's really nothing that's taken up the same position. Ahrent might because it will have broad acceptance,” says Alter.

Koen has looked at several Ahrent demonstration and foundation seed fields in the state. He says if Ahrent has a weakness, it's probably sheath blight susceptibility. But with the fungicides available now, sheath blight isn't nearly the concern it was a few years ago.

“With the new fungicides, we're able to take care of sheath blight troubles. It's so important for yields to be high, and this one will fit the bill in that regard.”

What about milling?

Moldenhauer, a professor in the University of Arkansas crop soils and environmental science department, says Ahrent isn't going to be the best milling rice, but will be very competitive. “It'll be better than Wells or LaGrue. I suspect it'll mill much like Drew or Kaybonnet.”

Waiting in the wings is Moldenhauer's next introduction. Still only a number, 1081 promises to “take rice yields by storm,” says Koen.

A name will be picked for 1081 this winter. Alter says he plans to get in on 1081 early. “Believe me, if they make us line up to get it, I'll be there early. I'll be the first one standing there when the door opens for business.”


e-mail: dbennett@primediabusiness.com