Chairman's Report, 2018


Jason Bowen, Rice Research Board Chairman

Welcome to the 50th annual report to the California Rice Growers.  This significant milestone in the history of the California rice industry is an opportunity to pause and reflect on the tremendous progress five decades of dedicated research funding has brought to fruition. We have included a special tribute section in this annual report in addition to updates on rice breeding, genetic improvement, variety trials, weed and disease management, fertilizer guidelines and nitrogen use efficiency, invertebrate pest control and insect monitoring, water use efficiency, environmental research, and studies examining rice byproduct utilization.

California’s public rice breeding program is conducted and managed by scientists at the Rice Experiment Station (RES). The program has made 50,208 crosses and released 50 improved public rice varieties in 11 different market classes since its inception in 1969. Foundation seed head rows were grown for breeder seed of A-202, Calaroma-201, M-210, M-104, and Calamylow-201 in 2018. Read about the intensive work involved for new variety development in the Rice Breeding Program section.

Testing of promising experimental lines takes place at 16 farm locations and at the RES. Top-yielding advanced lines are reported, along with yields of standard varieties. Testing advanced and preliminary lines under a variety of conditions is a critical aspect of new variety development. Results of this testing are described in the Rice Variety Trialssection.           

Geneticists continued research to select genes associated with reduced uptake of arsenic in rice. Progress has been made with experimental lines that could prove helpful in the development of rice varieties with reduced grain arsenic. This work is reported in Genetics for Rice Improvement.

Fertilizer research in 2018 focused on remote sensing of nitrogen status, ammonia volatilization at eight farm locations, and continuing work on the management of rice under alternating wet/dry (AWD) conditions. Some highlights: remote sensing techniques helped establish a threshold for a top-dressed nitrogen fertilizer application; ammonia volatilization accounted for less than 0.2% of applied fertilizer in aqua- and urea-drilled treatments; ongoing AWD research with a single dry-down period showed no yield differences across treatments and low greenhouse gas emissions. Read about this work in Improving Fertilizer Guidelines for California’s Changing Rice Climate.

A somewhat related project has documented the important role that ammonia oxidizers in the root zone and nitrate enzyme activity in rice leaves have on nitrogen use efficiency and ultimately on rice yield. This research is reported in Role of Nitrification in Rice Systems to Support Nitrogen Use Efficiency.

Weed management research focuses on new and existing herbicides, alternative crop establishment methods, and herbicide resistance strategies. Several herbicide combinations delivered near-perfect weed control. Twelve separate studies in 2018 evaluated different formulations and new active ingredients in continuously flooded rice systems. Research on drill-seeded rice systems focused on field trials and greenhouse studies with M-105, M-205, M-206 and M-209. Testing for suspected herbicide resistant weed populations from grower fields continued. This work is reported in Weed Management in Rice.

Scientists have been working with the industry since 2016 on an area of increasing concern: weedy red rice. Six distinct populations of weedy red rice have been identified. Experiments were conducted to determine the relative competitive ability of weedy red rice biotypes against M-206. Regardless of biotype, weedy red rice adversely affected M-206 yield components, including aboveground biomass, panicle weight and number, and yield per plant. This research is reported in Weedy Red Rice Control.

Rice diseases of concern to the California rice industry include aggregate sheath spot, stem rot, and kernel smut. In 2018 fungicide research, two Butte County trials focused on stem rot, one Sutter County trial focused on aggregate sheath spot, and two Glenn County trials focused on kernel smut. Good disease control was achieved with some of the treatments. Research also continued on methods assessing the level of kernel smut for a quick field evaluation by growers and PCAs. This work is reported in Rice Disease Research and Management.

In 2018, rice water weevil (RWW) research examined 10 different active ingredients at the Rice Experiment Station. All treatments had significantly lower RWW larvae numbers than the control. A variety susceptibility study showed a high level of variability, but low RWW pressure overall meant findings were inconclusive. In research on the control of tadpole shrimp, Dimilin®, an insect growth regulator, worked well when the shrimp were small but can take longer on larger shrimp. To improve armyworm monitoring, pheromone traps were placed in 16 locations across the valley. This, and related research, is reported in Protection of Rice from Invertebrate Pests.

Research on how rice pesticides degrade in the environment focused exclusively in 2018 on the the insecticide Coragen® (chlorantraniliprole), registered in California as a preflood treatment to control rice water weevil. Studies concentrated on simulated California rice field conditions and produced results suggesting that soil nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous may be playing a role in degradation. Read about this research in Environmental Fate of Rice Pesticides.

A study begun in the fall of 2017 continued in 2018 to compare methyl mercury dynamics in six representative Sacramento Valley commercial rice fields receiving two types of irrigation water, fresh and recycled. This research documented the seasonal ebb and flow of methyl mercury concentrations over the course of a year during winter and the growing season. Read about some preliminary results in Mercury in California Rice Systems.

A project examining arsenic uptake during rice cultivation is showing the potential for AWD treatments to minimize arsenic uptake. Analysis of nutrient concentrations also found no negative impact on concentrations of phosphorous, iron, zinc, and potassium in grain. Read about this research in the section Arsenic Speciation in Rice and the Environment.

In research to improve water use efficiency, a study on flooded rice fields showed that lateral seepage, while universally low, varied depending on whether the field was bordered by a drainage ditch, fallow field, flooded field, or supply canal. A complete water balance calculated for three commercial rice fields documented how percolation and lateral seepage can vary. Read more in Identifying Opportunities for Improving Water Use Efficiency.

A variety of insect pests can infest stored rice. To address this issue, engineers developed a real-time insect monitoring and detection system using insect traps, USB cameras, LEDs, a tiny computer called a Raspberry Pi, a server and a user interface. The new system was successfully tested at a commercial rice storage facility. With further refinements, the industry should have a new tool for monitoring and early detection of insect activity in rice storage facilities with high accuracy, reliability and safety, as well as low cost and labor savings. Read about this new research project in Insect Monitoring and Early Detection System in Rice During Storage.

An ongoing project studying how to convert rice straw components into nanomaterials and advanced functional products continues to produce impressive results. A diverse array of nanocelluloses have been fabricated, including electrically conductive aerogels and a graphene-derived nanopaper. This work is reported in Novel Nanomaterials and Performance Industrial Products.

A project at Chico State continued a study into the use of rice straw ash in alkali-activated slag cement. This research demonstrates that rice straw ash improves the physical properties of concrete and could help reduce the cost and carbon footprint of alkali-activated concrete production. This work is reported in Improving Concrete Properties with Rice Straw Ash.

A related project by the same research team is looking into the use of rice hull ash in concrete. Before experiments could be completed, however, smoke from the Camp Fire in nearby Paradise closed the Chico State campus and brought research to a halt. Most of the experiments will be repeated in 2019. Nonetheless, initial data obtained prior to the Camp Fire, showed that adding rice hull ash in concrete increases strength but reduces concrete workability. This work is reported in Utilization of Rice Hull Ash in Concrete.

The Rice Research Board also commissioned a literature review on the use of rice-based ashes in cement and the development of a “roadmap” for future research. In short, while the potential is there, concerns must be addressed. For instance, a survey of ready-mixed concrete producers revealed that cement users lack understanding about the performance of ash products in concrete and are also concerned about the continuous availability of high quality ash. The roadmap suggests inclusion of further research on the physical aspects of using these products, an assessment of availability and transportation, and economic and environmental analyses to determine viability.

That’s a quick summary of grower-funded research from 2018. Progress in rice research happens incrementally one year at a time. When we take the long view and reflect on how much the industry has evolved as a result of our ongoing investments for the past 50 years, it’s really an amazing story. The rice industry is a rock-solid part of the fabric of California agriculture in no small part because of the hard work and dedication shown by generations of scientists who have helped us meet the challenges that come our way and to embrace new opportunities with transformative innovations. Who knows what the next 50 years will bring, but we have a time-tested instrument of progress that’s proven its worth. Wishing you all the best for another safe and productive year in rice country.