On our final day in Texas we toured the RiceTec facility in Alvin, TX and Doguet’s rice mill. At RiceTec we learned about their seed business unit (SBU) and consumer business unit (CBU). The SBU is focused on developing hybrid rice varieties, while the CBU focuses on marketing specialized rice products to consumers. Rice Tec has five physical locations: Texas, Arkansas, Puerto Rico, Mercosur (Brazil) and India. The facility at Alvin, TX is a 500 acre farm where rice land is rotated with soybeans. RiceTec is not immune to the water shortages in Texas and they have been affected by the water restrictions implemented this production season.
RiceTec is a full-integrated company, employing more than 200 people from many continents. The company activities range from breeding, contract growing, and milling of rice to packaging, branding and marketing of specialty rice to consumers. Improvements in varieties are driven by customer needs. RiceTec is one of a few agricultural companies that only focuses on rice.
RiceTec began in 1988 with the first hybrid rice crosses. At that time, the company was called “Farms of Texas”. RiceTec was officially formed in 1990. In 2000, the first hybrid rice variety (XL6) was sold by RiceTec. The first Clearfield variety was released in 2001, and the first hybrid with Clearfield qualities was sold in 2003. Currently, XL745 is the most popular long grain rice variety grown in the US.
Many people ask the question: what is hybrid rice? Hybrid rice is a cross between two distantly related parents. The offspring of this cross benefit from the phenomenon referred to as “hybrid vigor”: consistently higher yields than conventional rice varieties. Rice has a perfect flower, perfect in the sense that both male and female structures are present in the flower. This allows rice to self-pollinate. One of the challenges of hybrid rice breeding is the development of female sterile lines, which allow for the crossing of two varieties. The difficulty lies in distributing pollen from the male line to the female sterile line. RiceTec developed a mechanized hybrid seed production by planting female and male lines in blocks in a field and then using a helicopter to move the pollen between the two parent lines.
Hybrid rice was first produced in 1974. Currently, 60% of rice hectares in China are planted in hybrid rice varieties. Due to the enhanced yield potential of rice, growers can intensify production on less land. This ability to intensify crop production in a sustainable matter is critical to the support of our growing global population. The impact of hybrid rice production in China is significant. More than 40 million acres of hybrid rice varieties are planted in China. On average, the hybrid varieties have a 20% yield advantage over conventional varieties. This increase in yield potential, feeds 60 million more people each year! Hybrid varieties allow farmers to grow more food on less land, sustainably, and feed more people.
One of the critical issues facing farmers across the globe is the challenge of crop production intensification using sustainable practices. Hybrid rice varieties fit within this paradigm, because they are in their nature a sustainable product. Hybrids offer increased per capita grain yields, higher fertilizer efficiency, higher water use efficiency, lower production costs per hundred weight of rice produced, and disease and insect resistance (thus less pesticide use).
After Brian Otis concluded his presentation on the Seed Business side of RiceTec, we heard a brief presentation on the Consumer Business at RiceTec. This information was all new to me. I was not aware of the RiceSelect company. RiceSelect only sells premium rice and grains. The company is vertically integrated from seed to plate, distributing proprietary varieties of rice that are grown in Texas. RiceSelect has been in business for 30 years and was the first company to produce and distribute aromatic rice grown in the US. The CBU conducts studies of customer preference and marketing. RiceSelect is the only major brand of rice packed in a resealable jar, which improves the package appearance of their product on the shelf and maintains the quality of the rice. RiceSelect products are grown on American family farms, are rated US no 1 grade, and can be purchased in white, brown, light brown and organic. Light brown rice has gone through one phase of milling and still has some bran intact on the grain, improving the fiber content. The photo below contains (right to left) brown rice, light brown and white rice.
RiceSelect has a strong focus on environmental stewardship. They strive to produce a high quality product that is nutritious, provides ease of use to the customer, is non-genetically modified, and has low environmental impact. These stewardship principles are applied from the rice field, to the processing, packaging, and distribution of the product. They graciously provided us with some of their RiceSelect Texmati rice. I cooked it for dinner on Saturday night and was pleased with the freshness, texture and flavor of the product.
RiceTec is one of the sponsors of the Rice Leadership program and we greatly appreciate their support.