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Mississippi rice growers work to fill void left by Clearfield 131

The loss of the Clearfield 131 rice variety, the second rice variety banned for planting this year in the United States, will decrease Mississippi rice acreage and complicate production in 2007.

“At least 40 percent of our rice acres in Mississippi this year would have been in Clearfield 131,” said Nathan Buehring, Mississippi State University Extension rice specialist based at the Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville, Miss.

“I think we can replace 20 to 30 percent of that acreage with other rice varieties,” Buehring said.

“But the remaining 10 to 20 percent had heavy red rice on it, and it really needed the Clearfield system.”

On March 9, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service banned Clearfield 131 from planting in 2007 after confirming trace levels of genetically modified material in samples of the rice variety. The ban is intended to purge the U.S. rice supply of the genetic material and to maintain the country's reputation as a non-genetically modified rice exporter.

In November, another rice variety, Cheniere, was banned from planting in 2007. Cheniere was planted on about 25 percent of Mississippi rice acreage in 2006.

“Replacing Cheniere was a little bit different because it was a non-Clearfield variety, and we found some varieties to replace it,” Buehring said. “With Clearfield 161 seed in limited supply, we don't have a real good variety available to replace Clearfield 131.”

Clearfield rice contains a natural mutation that allows growers to control red rice and other weeds in rice production with blanket herbicide applications. Clearfield rice is conventionally bred and not genetically modified.

Rice producers have embraced Clearfield technology since its introduction in 2003, Buehring said.

“We were gaining acres in Clearfield varieties because growers liked its excellent red rice control, and it provided excellent grass control with the exception of one or two species,” Buehring said. “It is overall a good, easier weed control system.”

Buehring said producers with severe red rice infestations probably will plant soybeans on those acres in 2007 if they cannot obtain Clearfield 161. Producers who plant non-Clearfield rice in red-rice-infested fields will face negative impacts on production, Buehring said.

“Depending on red-rice infestation levels, producers could see lower yields and potential dockages where they're selling rice just because it has red rice in it,” Buehring said.

The rice specialist said before Clearfield technology, producers employed tillage and longer rotation patterns, such as two years of soybeans and one year of rice instead of back-to-back rice and soybean rotations to control red rice.

Gibb Steele, a rice producer in Washington County, Miss., said about 5 percent of his rice acres are so heavily infested with red rice that he will have to plant them in soybeans this year instead of rice.

“I was going to plant about a third of my crop in Clearfield 131,” Steele said. “About 5 percent of my acres were bad enough that I had to have a Clearfield variety. The other acres needed a Clearfield variety, but they aren't that bad. Those acres will look ugly, but it's going to be all right.”

Travis Satterfield, a rice farmer near Benoit, Miss., said he had originally planned to plant at least two-thirds of his rice crop in Clearfield 131.

“Now we're going to be replacing Clearfield 131 with Cocodrie,” Satterfield said. “That will be the bulk of our crop for this year.”

Satterfield said he hopes to get some Clearfield 161 to plant this year. He also said he plans to alter his traditional rotation patterns to combat red rice on his farm.

Rice acreage needs to stay in the range of 240,000 to 260,000 acres to run the Mississippi rice industry smoothly, Satterfield said. He has grown rice for more than 30 years and serves on the Mississippi Rice Council.

“Rice is a really good economic booster for the community,” Satterfield said. “We have a milling industry that needs to be supported. Transportation, chemical and fertilizer dealers and all of the local economy benefits from high rice acreage.”

Mississippi had 265,000 acres in 2005 and dropped to 190,000 rice acres in 2006.

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