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Producers find profits in growing hybrid rice

For father-and-son farming team Bryan and Pete Moery, the decision to plant hybrid rice rested in increased yields. The disease package, lower fertility needs and decreased seeding rate only sealed the deal, making profits consistent.

The Moerys were among the first Arkansas rice producers to plant hybrids when RiceTec started field testing the breakthrough in the late 1990s. Today, they grow 1,200 acres of their total 1,800-acre rice crop in RiceTec hybrids. The Moerys arrived at the decision from a scientific and business standpoint. The father has a degree in agronomy from the University of Arkansas while son Pete has a degree in ag business from Arkansas State University.

Currently, RiceTec holds between a 30% to 40% share of the rice seed market and was the first to offer hybrids when it debuted the technology in 1999.

“It’s easier growing hybrids than the conventional varieties,” Bryan says.

“You pretty much know what you’re going to get when you put it in the ground,” Pete adds.

Key Points

• Arkansas farmers see a profit with RiceTec rice.

• Fewer fungicide applications and lower costs seal the deal.

• RiceTec has been offering hybrids for 10 years.

Big drawing card

The Moerys have found a reduction in the seeding rate one of the drawing cards for hybrids. They plant 25 to 30 pounds of rice seed per acre in their fields. “We get a good stand at that rate, and the hybrids take the cold water better than conventional varieties,” Bryan says. “If you don’t have a perfect stand, you’re still going to make a crop. It just makes life a lot simpler.”

Another advantage to planting hybrids, the Moerys say, is the disease package in the hybrids. They plant RiceTec hybrids XL729 and XL745.

“Very seldom do we have to apply fungicides on our hybrid fields,” Bryan says. In contrast, on conventional varieties, the Moerys would have to start with higher seeding rates in the spring, spray fungicides to control late-season diseases and use a little more fertilizer to make the crop.

“The hybrids are more consistent for us, year-in and year-out,” Bryan says.

Even in a year with excessive rainfall, like 2009, the Moerys were cutting 180 to 200 bushels per acre. “Rain delayed our planting this year,” Bryan says. “If I were going to have to plant rice later like I did this year, I’d rather have a hybrid.”

Asked which characteristics he would like to see changed to make the hybrid even more desirable for farmers such as himself, Bryan responds, “Itchy. The leaves of hybrids are itchy … but I can itch a whole lot for the extra-high yields we have experienced over the past several years.” He also mentions shattering.

RiceTec has been hands-on in developing a “grower-oriented, scientifically based” approach in its hybrids, says John H. Nelsen, the company’s president and CEO. For example, growers complained about dust and hairs on the leaves and RiceTec responded.

Less itch, more yield

RiceTec is testing a smooth leaf hybrid, XP752, that offers less itch and more yield potential over its popular XL729 hybrid. The company is also testing the first semidwarf hybrid, XP751. RiceTec is also testing two other hybrids for possible release: XP753, which features a 20% yield increase over XL723, and XP754, a hybrid that’s seven days later than its other hybrids. Nelsen points to a strategy that will allow growers to plant hybrids in a similar time frame but spread out the harvest by maturity dates.

For 2010, RiceTec offers XL723, its “racehorse” hybrid; Clearfield XL729, its
best-selling hybrid in 2009; and Clearfield XL745, which is a couple of days earlier in maturity than Clearfield XL729 and offers better grain retention.

RiceTec’s aromatic hybrids

In addition to offering hybrid seed to commercial growers, RiceTec is also in the business of growing its own aromatic rice for the consumer market.

On about 3,000 acres, RiceTec grows four specialty rice hybrids that show up in stores nationwide and around the world. RiceTec is the second-largest specialty rice company in the U.S. “We found it easier to grow these rice varieties for retail market than to contract,” says John Nelsen, RiceTec’s president and CEO.

“We do rice from discovery to the retail store,” notes Nelsen. The company is currently working with several researchers, including scientists at Cornell University, to infuse the hybrids with stronger aromatic characteristics.

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BIG ON HYBRIDS: Bryan (right) and Pete Moery agree that hybrids make their lives a lot simpler.

This article published in the January, 2010 edition of MID-SOUTH FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.