RiceTec Inc.: At the Forefront of Innovation, Grain by Grain

RiceTec Inc. (RiceTec) is making waves in the global agricultural industry by pioneering a new and improved form of hybrid rice. “We’re the only company in the Western Hemisphere that has commercialized this product,” explains John Nelsen, CEO of RiceTec, proudly. “And we’re the only company in the world that has mechanized the hybrid seed production process for rice while incorporating herbicide tolerance.”

Houston-based RiceTec developed the first-of-its-kind technology back in 2003, and the company has been enhancing its ever-expanding line of hybrid seed products since. In so doing, RiceTec is improving rice crop yields for farmers across North and South America.

RiceTec grew out of a 50,000-acre rice-farming partnership, which originated in 1984 by the Farms of Texas Company. RiceTec was founded as an independent company in 1990 with the mission of leveraging its specialized skills in plant breeding together with a broad germplasm collection to economically produce hybrid rice seed products that offer value-added benefits to farmers and specialized rice products to consumers.

Today the company has expanded outside of its home state of Texas to a national and global level. “We mainly serve the rice-growing regions of the U.S. Gulf Coast and mid-south, but we have enterprises in Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, Puerto Rico and our newest initiative Savannah Seeds in New Delhi, India, as well,” details Nelsen.

In order to keep operations running smoothly, RiceTec employs over 550 employees, both ethnically and educationally diverse. “We have a large number of individuals who were born and raised outside of the U.S.,” continues Nelsen.

The Super Crop Feeding the World

As the largest marketer of hybrid rice in the world aside from China, RiceTec’s science delivers many benefits traditional varietal strains cannot. “On average, farmers will see 25 percent more yield on the same amount of land with our hybrid rice,” shares Nelsen. “Our products also have lower input costs when it comes to pesticides and fertilizers.”

A hybrid’s strength comes down to basic science in crossing two diverse, distantly related varietal lines. “Combining the two creates a hybrid that contains a vast majority of positive traits from its parents,” explains Nelsen. “Inherent disease tolerance and greater nutrient absorption, among other things, contribute to more productive crops.”

Hybrid rice offers a greener solution than conventional rice types, because it produces a higher output while using fewer natural resources, including land and water. In addition, it requires less fungicides and fertilizer. This also reduces the amount of fuel needed to transport and apply those chemicals. In short, 25-percent-less land can be used to feed the same number of people using less water and fewer pesticides and fertilizers.

According to Nelsen, recent research out of the University of Arkansas finds that RiceTec’s hybrid rice emits lower greenhouse gas than conventional rice varieties. “Our hybrids have been shown to result in carbon sequestration,” he details. “By that we mean they can actually help remove carbon greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere. This is critically important for the future of agriculture.”

RiceTec is working with downstream mills to market a special identity-preserved line of its hybrid rice as its next innovation for the marketplace: SmartRice. RiceTec’s SmartRice will be available for sale in fall 2013 to businesses and consumers seeking a more responsible and sustainable food and ingredient alternative.

“In a world where every six to eight seconds one child dies of hunger or malnutrition, we must find a way to feed more people with less land,” stresses Nelsen. “Rice is a staple in the diet of people around the globe. We’re working hard to introduce our innovations to a global platform.”

Nelsen believes in sharing his company’s cutting-edge knowledge. “If the technology is developed in one country and applied in another in a conscientious, science-based manner, well, then we’re one step closer to feeding the world,” he says.

Distinctive, Value-oriented Products

Nelsen is confident that his team at RiceTec can make a difference. “We do everything from discovery research to product development to the sale of our products,” he details. “We are always open to collaboration, as well. Rather than saying we’re the expert and that’s that, we selectively partner with organizations that are at the forefront of developing hybrid and other technologies.” Nelsen admits what it comes down to is continuously working on products that are unique and provide as much incremental value as possible.

Ensuring products will be highly valuable to customers is one of RiceTec’s main priorities. “We have a technically focused sales and service team that acts as a support network directly in the field,” says Nelsen. “They utilize various models to assist farmers in planning how a crop will fair in a particular area, as well as the ins and outs of growing hybrid rice. We want to make sure our customers have a real understanding of what these products can deliver.”

RiceTec also developed and now produces a line of high-value, specialty consumer products that can be seen on the shelves of over 80 percent of grocers in the U.S. These popular products are marketed under the RiceSelect brand and include such aromatic rice items as Texmati, Jasmati, brown, organic and Arborio.

The company offers both conventional rice hybrids, such as XL753, as well as hybrids with Clearfield herbicide, including the leading seller Clearfield XL745, which features the Clearfield herbicide technology. First released in 2008, Clearfield XL745 has proven itself as a mainstay workhorse hybrid, thus serving as the core product of RiceTec’s business.

After 30 years in the industry RiceTec has thrived despite the inevitable new business challenges. “There are always obstacles when you’re bringing innovative products to the market, but to the best of your ability you must make sure your product align with customer expectations,” explains Nelsen.

RiceTec fulfills a valuable niche as the world creates an increasing demand for sustainable hybrid alternatives with a very limited amount of resources. “Hybrid rice is a very real solution to world hunger as farmers can grow more food with less water and space,” shares Nelsen. “We want to continue to contribute to the sustainability of food production by introducing hybrid rice to nations all over the world.” With the help of Nelsen and his team, RiceTec Inc. continues as an example of proactive innovation, bettering the agricultural industry the world over.