Chairman's Report-89



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RRB Chairman, Steven L. Dennis



A we move into a new decade, we can take pride in the strides the California rice industry has made through its far-sighted research and brace ourselves for the challenges that lie ahead.

Ten years ago we had barely begun to see a return on our investment in rice variety development. Up to this point in time, we've spent more than $10 million in pursuit of new, higher yielding rice varieties to meet the diversified needs of our domestic and foreign markets. Today nearly all California rice acreage is planted to the 22 public varieties, producing nearly two million tons of rice valued at more than $390 million. A new short grain variety is planned for release in 1990.

As with all life, genes are the basis of these improvements. Researchers continue their search for new ways to integrate conventional plant breeding techniques with molecular genetics to create new rice varieties. They report that the use of anther culture to grow "instant" pure experimental lines can be an economical and effective shortcut.

Meanwhile, plant breeders and University of California farm advisors continue monitoring the progress of promising new experimental lines in variety trials at the Rice Experiment , Station in Biggs; in nurseries at UC Davis, in San Joaquin County and Hawaii; and in the fields of cooperating growers throughout the rice-growing areas of the state. Several variety trials produced averages of more than 10,000 pounds per acre, with some experimental and commercial cultivars producing well over 11,000 pounds per acre.

In their continuing efforts to increase the effectiveness and safety of chemicals used to control weeds, researchers report more encouraging news about Londax®. Two important findings were that a late application did not injure rice and that it can be used at even lower rates in combination with other herbicides. Timing of application appears to be one of the most critical factors in its effectiveness.

For some growers, 1989 may very well be remembered as the year of the Rice Water Weevil. Only twice before has the infestation been worse. Damage inflicted seemed to be a function of planting dates, since the flights came much earlier than in previous seasons. Ironically, this hampered researchers' efforts to select weevil-tolerant lines. The good news is that two nematode species offer hope of an effective biological control for RWW.

Similarly, researchers report progress in efforts to find a biocontrol for stem rot, a timely development in light of increasing criticism of rice straw burning. The researchers were particularly encouraged by a fungus that reduced stem rot in two of three cultivars.

Growers and government agencies alike need to understand what happens to rice pesticides after they've been applied in order to make informed management and regulatory decisions. Noteworthy developments in this area of research include new techniques to measure how environmental factors, especially sunlight, break down pesticides.

Head rice is a topic of obvious importance, since it has a direct bearing on our profitability. Significant progress has been made in the development of a computerized method of managing rice for optimal head rice yield. It takes into account such factors as competition from weeds, moisture level and weather.

In heartening developments from the food industry, major companies like Kellogg's, Ralston Purina and Quaker are gearing up for heavy advertising of new products containing rice bran. Research into the cholesterol-lowering properties of rice bran continues, while the researchers also report improved methods of analyzing milled white rice to meet the demanding specifications of the Japanese rice flour market.

Last year on this page, I encouraged you to join with me in reaffirming your support of the marketing order that pays for rice research. I'm glad you agreed and voted with me overwhelmingly. Our need for research is as great as it's ever been, particularly in the area of finding alternatives to rice straw burning.

I am happy to report that improvements in the monitoring and forecasting capabilities of the agricultural burning program led to the fewest number of complaints we've ever had since the program began 10 years ago. Our efforts were even acknowledged by the Lung Association, which awarded the Rice Research Board a "clean air award."

Yet reports in the mass media neglect our efforts to improve air quality in the Sacramento Valley and continue to castigate the industry with unsubstantiated charges that rice straw burning is a serious public health menace. We hope that a study we are funding in the year ahead will shed light on the situation. Only with sound scientific research will we prevail with those who make public policy decisions.


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