Alvin Company Produces Hybrid Rice Seed For Gulf Coast Farmers

The Alvin-based hybrid rice seed company RiceTek recently invited farmers to a "field day" to showcase their latest varieties. Ed Mayberry has the report.
Commercial rice production began in Texas in the 1880s, but really took off with the introduction of seed imported from Japan in 1904. RiceTek Hybrid Rice Seed in Alvin researches and produces new Texas-specific varieties of rice. Dr. Jose Re stood in a flooded rice field to greet farmers taking part in RiceTek's Field Day.

"Good morning! We are going to have an excellent and warm day here in the, under the Houston weather. Pretty soon, in one hour, you'll be back in the building. We'll be here standing, maybe the whole day, but that's fine!"

RiceTek researchers and marketers talk about current varieties being developed for use in south Texas.

"My name is Van McNeeley. I'm the technical services manager with RiceTek, based out of Jonesboro, Arkansas. Another thing we also do here at RiceTek is we evaluate management recommendations on our products — looking for the best way to, for you to maximize performance on 'em."

Federico Cuevas is executive vice president for research and technology at RiceTek.

"We have changed the seed that the farmers use from a traditional, conventional variety into a hybrid. The conventional variety uses the natural tendency of rice to self-reproduce, and the hybrid utilizes a technology to force the hybrid to cross-pollinate. And by cross-pollinating, you take advantage of the hybrid vigor."

rice fieldsCuevas says the challenge is to produce types of rice with different markets in mind.

"You are trying to put a product that is going to satisfy the farmer. Then the rice goes to the industry. The industry wants the rice to be easier to process. Consumer wants the rice to be whole, and not broken."

If the rice isn't whole grain, its marketability is cut in half. Glenn Hager operates a family farm near Hockley.

"Well, we're learning what the leading edge of rice farming is, as far as production, and how to go about doing those production operations."

Hager's family farm has been in the rice business for 63 years.

"Family farms have dwindled considerably, and I believe the average age of the farmer now is somewhere between 55 and 60. I just love being outdoors, farming, watching things grow. It's just a great lifestyle."

But Hager says depressed prices for rice kept him out of the rice business for a couple of years.

"The problem I see with rice production here in the U.S. is our production costs are so much higher than say in Asia. And it's just tough to be a competitor with those countries."

Federico Cuevas says that's where this Texas-based seed-producing company comes in.

"I mean, we are looking for challenges. Rice is the last crop to get all the technology behind it. Maize, cotton soybeans, and rice — we're just getting started with rice."

Ed Mayberry, KUHF Houston Public Radio News.



First aired 7 July 2008.
Bio photo of Ed Mayberry

Ed Mayberry

Local Anchor, All Things Considered

Ed Mayberry has worked in radio since 1971, with many of those years spent on the rock 'n' roll disc jockey side of the business...