Chairman's Report-2003




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Rice Research Board Chairman, Eric Larrabee


Welcome to this, the 35th annual report to California rice growers, providing you with an update on industry research. Reports contained within these pages summarize progress being made in evolving pest management strategies, understanding the factors affecting rice quality, creative new uses for straw and many other issues.

California rice acreage and yield declined a bit last year, the result of prolonged wet weather in spring 2003 that delayed planting. An estimated 507,000 acres of rice was grown last year, yielding an average 7,620 pounds/acre. This compares with yields of 8,200 pounds/acre grown on 540,000 acres in 2002. More than 90 percent of this acreage is grown with varieties developed at the Rice Experiment Station, where plant breeders continue the intricate work of improving performance in all grain types and maturity classes. Read about this work in the Rice Breeding Program section of this report.

In related research UC Davis-based geneticists with USDA's Agricultural Research Service are working to integrate conventional breeding methods with advanced techniques in molecular biology. Progress on tapping into sources of disease resistance and cold tolerance are reported in Molecular Marker-Assisted Rice Improvement.

Before any promising experimental rice line can be graduated to varietal status, it must be field tested in Statewide Variety Trials. These tests are conducted at 16-on farm locations throughout the state and also at the Rice Experiment Station and provide essential information on actual performance in real-world growing conditions. Results of a nitrogen management study in dry-seeded rice are also reported in the Variety Trials section of this report.

The elimination of open field burning as a routine means of rice straw disposal has generated a whole slew of questions regarding how alternative practices - straw incorporation, in particular - have affected soil fertility and, ultimately rice productivity. Agronomists studying these questions have reaffirmed earlier observations that residue incorporation can improve rice yields. A second part of this project, reported in Soil Fertility and Fertilizer Use, examined the practice of liming in relation to yields, soil tilth and weed pressure.

Weed scientists continue their work analyzing various herbicides - new compounds, combinations and sequential applications. In an effort to move beyond traditional approaches to managing herbicide-resistant weeds, a new effort was begun last year to develop a more comprehensive method of establishing rice. The idea is to incorporate the benefits of crop rotation - get to the weeds first before they have a chance to get to young rice plants. A genetic purity study is also reported in the Weed Control in Rice section.

The focus of rice disease work shifted away from stem rot and blast to the newest California rice disease, Bakanae. Researchers have been examining various seed treatments, as this is the primary avenue of transport for this fungus. Preliminary data from lab tests indicate that ozone may be a safe and effective alternative. Read more in Controlling Bakanae Disease.

The two main areas of entomology research last year concentrated on invertebrate pest biology and refined use of essential insecticides such as Dimilin 2L, Warrior and Mustang. Progress in this area is reported in the section Protection of Rice from Invertebrate Pests. In a related study, researchers at Fresno State are looking at the use of bluestone and an organic compound to control tadpole shrimp. Read about it in Control of Tadpole Shrimp.

Environmental toxicologists focused on two significant herbicides - Bolero and Clomazone. A byproduct of Bolero has been implicated in the formation of Delayed Phytotoxicity Syndrome (DPS). These scientists examined how copper, also used to control tadpole shrimp, or phosphate might inhibit the microorganisms involved in DPS. Their work is reported in Environmental Fate of Rice Pesticides.

Rice researchers are delving more deeply and more broadly into the geographic and environmental factors that ultimately impinge upon rice productivity and yield. This project, reported in Factors Affecting Milling Quality and Yield, examined how certain meteorological conditions - dew formation and drying winds, in particular - impact head rice yield.

The aim of another project is to ensure that rice sample milling procedures are up to date and in sync with improvements in commercial rice milling technology. Changes in laboratory cooling methods were a big part of this work, as was an investigation of the effects of milling pressure and time on rice quality. Read about it in Improvement of Rice Sample Milling.

In ongoing Rice Utilization and Product Development research, food scientists continued work on a study begun last year to examine the cancer-fighting properties of rice bran. Specifically, the project is examining ways that rice bran might be treated with an enzyme to enhance its nutritional qualities.

Rice straw represents a potentially valuable, relatively untapped livestock feed market for growers. It can be used quite successfully as a supplement in cattle rations if care is exercised in baling and adequate lab testing confirms appropriate protein and fiber content. A UC farm advisor has conducted research in this area for a number of years and has published simple guidelines to use in a free online publication. Read more in the section Forage Variability in Rice Straw.

In another project studying new end uses for rice straw scientists at the University of California's Desert Research and Extension Center are examining "macerated" rice straw as a feed ration for feedlot cattle. Experiments confirmed that this mechanical treatment greatly enhances the feeding value of rice straw and that adding an enzyme to the product compounds the effect. Read about this work in Rice Straw Utilization by Feedlot Cattle.

Finally, we report in Sacramento Valley Fall Burn Program how this exemplary program effectively manages the limited open field burning still permitted while minimizing air quality impacts. The fall acreage total dropped to another historic low of 33,908 acres. The reality is that smoke from forest fires and ozone from the burgeoning number of automobiles on California highways are the true cause of summertime air quality problems.

Rice growers through a voluntary assessment that is coordinated through the California Rice Research Board pay for all this work. It is a testament to the long tradition of innovation, hard work and responsible stewardship that are hallmarks of the California rice industry. I look forward to serving as your chairman and wish you a safe and productive 2004.


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