Some rice producers in Louisiana grow nothing but hybrids. A large number of them grow both, while some stick strictly with conventional varieties.
During his tour stop at the 110th Annual Rice Field Day held at the H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station in Crowley, La., Dr. James Oard, professor and rice breeder at the station, posed the following question: “Why might rice farmers want to consider choosing a hybrid rice variety over a conventional variety?”
The hybrid rice expert then presented four reasons why they should. “An important reason is the 10 to 30 percent yield increase that a hybrid would deliver,” says Oard. “The final percent increase would depend, of course, on which conventional variety you make the comparison against.”
“The second reason may be even more important than the yield increase, and that is a better yield return per-acre,” says Oard. “That should be the bottom line when it comes to deciding.”
The LSU AgCenter economic department, in cooperation with Dr. Michael Deliberto, assistant professor, research, conducted an in-depth study comparing hybrids and conventional varieties and focused on that net return per acre. The study concluded under certain circumstances, a hybrid can deliver a higher net return per-acre.
The 2019 LSU AgCenter Rice Enterprise Budgets estimate total direct expenses for a hybrid variety production system to be $699 per acre. “A majority of the costs for hybrid rice comes from the increased seed costs on a per-acre basis,” says Deliberto. “Differences also exist in the fertilizer requirements, and, albeit to a lesser extent, herbicide applications, when compared to a drill-planted Clearfield rice production system.”
Direct costs for the Clearfield system are estimated at $559 per-acre, and $496 per-acre for a conventional system. The study, when referencing yields, reveals hybrid varieties can produce a higher yield on a per-acre basis compared to conventional and Clearfield varieties. “We have seen some post-farmgate issues with the milling qualities of hybrids,” says Deliberto.
Both Oard and Deliberto know these outcomes will not occur on every rice production operation because of the differences in growing environments. “Our staff is more than willing to sit down with any producer and develop an economic scenario based on his farm that will allow him to make a more educated evaluation on their varietal selection,” says Oard.
During their winter Extension meetings last year, Deliberto referenced one of the online rice farm management support tools they prepare each year. The tool provides growers an interactive format where they can estimate the cost and returns of different rice production systems subject to their own price and yield expectations.
The tool may be downloaded at link: https://www.lsuagcenter.com/articles/page1546614701409.
The third reason a producer may want to consider a hybrid is, in some cases they require less nitrogen than conventional varieties. Lowering input costs is always a priority. “That would be good not only from the economic farm input perspective, but also better from an environmental perspective,” says Oard.
Finally, some producers in north Louisiana and in Arkansas are growing rice in row production systems. “As it turns out, virtually all of those producers are growing hybrids,” says Oard. “Why? Because hybrids tend to have inherently higher levels of resistance against rice blast disease, which can be a real problem under a row rice system.”
Oard knows hybrids are not perfect by any means. They come with several challenges that must be considered. “One of those considerations is the higher seed costs for hybrids over conventional varieties,” says Deliberto. “Per seed, hybrids can cost anywhere from three to five times more than conventional rice seed, so it’s a significant input cost variable that changes the economic picture quickly.”
Grain quality in some hybrid varieties is unacceptably low, and issues with grain chalk exist. “The opaque region in the milled grain is an appearance quality trait that becomes particularly important when it comes to our export markets of Central and South America,” says Oard. “This is negatively affecting our rice markets currently, but we’re looking at what can be done from a breeding perspective to improve that quality problem.”
To address some of these issues, the LSU AgCenter last year released LAH169, an early-maturing, conventional, long-grain hybrid. “It shows good potential in both the first crop and second crop,” says Oard. “Two good selling points for this variety are it’s early maturity, which increases your chance for a higher-quality ratoon crop, and it has 50 percent less mill chalk than other hybrids currently on the market.”
LSU AgCenter officials are in talks with potential commercialization partners for LAH169. “We’ve also advanced CLH161 in the breeding pipeline. Its performance is similar to LAH169, but it is resistant to Newpath herbicide, so it fits in the Clearfield technology package,” says Oard. “We hope to announce its commercial release soon.”