Steven L. Dennis, Chairman, Rice Research Board
We rice growers are all familiar with and proud of the marked production
improvements we've seen through our ongoing research investments. Statewide
yield averages continue to nudge upward, primarily as a result the improved
public varieties available to California growers.
As this year's annual report shows, however, our research investment is
reaping other vital benefits as well - the flexibility
to adapt to a more competitive marketplace and the capability to
respond to increasing environmental concerns.
One area where this is readily apparent is in the rice breeding program, Plant breeders at the Rice Experiment Station are continuing their work to develop new rice varieties for California growing conditions. Factors such as improved grain quality and cold tolerance are paramount among breeding objectives. Yet other factors, such as seedling vigor and disease resistance, are receiving renewed attention because of pesticide regulation and the curtailment of rice straw burning. Similarly, marketing trends are fueling interest in premium quality and specialty rices Meanwhile, the newest addition to the family of improved public rice varieties was released to growers this year: M-204, a smooth, early maturing semidwarf with stable grain and milling yields.
Before experimental rice lines are released to California growers as new varieties, they undergo rigorous scrutiny by University of California and RES scientists. At locations throughout the rice growing regions of California, several entries this last year produced average yields of 10,000 pounds per acre. Some experimental and commercial cultivars produced more than 12,000 pounds per acre. See the "variety trials" section of the report for more details.
Improvements in California rice begin with the basic building blocks of life, the genes. Board-funded scientists studying genetics are continuing their efforts to develop hybrid rice. They also report acquiring new sources of germplasm from the Philippines and efforts to introduce a "wide compatibility gene" into California germplasm. Molecular genetics and tissue culture work will be greatly facilitated by the renovation of a laboratory at UC Davis.
There's no substitute for field experience, but let's face it: making intelligent management decisions is a much more difficult process than it once was. Based on their successful experience with the cotton industry, UC rice scientists and computer experts have developed a software program to streamline decision-making, taking into account such factors as variety selection, fertility management, herbicide selection, invertebrate pest management, and harvesting and drying requirements. Some growers will be using a prototypical version of CALEX for rice this year. The insight gained will help rice scientists and computer experts fine-tune the program for following seasons.
Another area where Board-funded researchers are studying technological improvements is in the development of new rice products. Scientists with the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Albany are working to develop new products made from rice flour and are encouraged by the development of a high-tech method of predicting the amylose content of rice, important information for ensuring which varieties are appropriate for which markets. Finally, ongoing studies with hamsters and chickens continue to support evidence of the cholesterol-lowering properties of rice bran.
Research into alternative methods of controlling stem rot and other rice diseases has taken on a renewed urgency for obvious reasons - the impending phase down of rice straw burning. Plant pathologists report several developments in efforts to find effective cultural and biological control methods for stem rot, as well as other fungal diseases. Researchers confirm that straw contact with soil is the pivotal factor affecting decomposition. Also under study is a certain fungus type that showed itself an aggressive parasite of the stem rot organism. Of the many organisms researchers tested for potential in-season biocontrol of stem rot, two appear to have some promise. Researchers established a new three-year trial at the Rice Experiment Station with separate water systems to determine the true potential for these two organisms and the fungus to control stem rot under field conditions.
Another familiar pest, rice water weevil, was the object of important research last year. The season's observations support those of previous years, which suggest that weather, especially temperature and wind speed, plays an important and somewhat predictable role in influencing the occurrence and magnitude of weevil flights. Researchers investigated weevil infestation patterns, the influence of habitat on weevil flight behavior and how different soil-water-vegetation conditions affect biological characteristics of rice water weevil. In contrast to previous studies, last year's field observations indicate that late flooding and planting dates did not consistently or predictably lower infestation weevil levels. This research project also showed that simply removing weeds from levees may be one of the most effective methods of limiting weevil damage.
In the world of weed control, two new experimental herbicides looked extremely promising for watergrass control at rates well below those of currently used herbicides' Another new herbicide controlled broadleaf weeds similar to Londax®, and continuing studies with Londax® showed that a late application will work adequately if necessary. Researchers also report progress on a new computer program that may be able to predict losses due to different kinds of weeds and help determine the most cost effective control.
Air quality - a topic of perennial interest to growers and non-growers alike was relatively good last season. Significantly fewer complaints about smoke were received by the state Air Resources Board and local air pollution control districts than the year before. Rice stubble burning has been a convenient target for both clean air activists and politicians. However, the information gathered from our agricultural burning program shows that Sacramento Valley air pollution peaks during morning commute hours and again overnight, strongly suggesting that the valley's problem with excessive particulate material is due more to urban generated pollution sources such as car exhaust and wood smoke than rice field burning.
Indicative of its continuing commitment to preserving the air quality of the Sacramento Valley, the Rice Research Board commissioned a study in 1990 to create a body of factual information for discussions about silica fibers and other particulate matter in rice straw burning emissions. After two years of field studies and wind tunnel experiments, unfortunately, much of the information is still inconclusive.
In another study related to rice straw burning, physicians from the UC Davis School of Medicine teamed up with Cooperative Extension agronomists to survey the respiratory health of rice growers. The preliminary results are encouraging. It appears that of the 474 growers and workers surveyed, we're in better shape than the general population. Maybe it's the air. Not to make light of an important topic. On the contrary, information like this - based on facts rather than hearsay - shows how your continuing support of research into the many facets of the rice industry will reap benefits for us now and in the future.