Chairman's Report-94


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Rice Research Board Chairman Steve Dennis


The outlook for the California rice industry is one of cautious optimism. Increasing domestic consumption and the gradual opening of overseas markets boosted acreage in 1994 to an estimated 485,000 acres. Yet production challenges abound - herbicide resistance and straw management, in particular. This underscores the importance of your continuing support of research that will keep our industry a vibrant and welcome component of California's economy well into the future.

Chairman.jpg (111609 bytes)Plant breeders from the Rice Experiment Station in Biggs continue to make steady progress in the development of new varieties. Last year more than 900 new crosses were made for varietal improvement. Since 1961 scientists have now made more than 20,000 crosses, leading to the release of the public varieties that have helped to boost yields in California to an average last year of 8,500 pounds per acre. A strong emphasis in all grain types is now being given to milling and cooking quality. New laboratory equipment is hastening progress in quality evaluation. RES scientists are also working on several cooperative projects to tap into stem rot resistance. Read about these and other developments in the Rice Breeding Program section of this year's annual report.

The road to rice variety improvement leads through all-important field trials conducted by University of California scientists in cooperation with public and private plant breeders. Last year 16 on-farm evaluation trials were conducted throughout the rice growing regions of California. Six similar tests were conducted at the Rice Experiment Station. Several advanced and preliminary breeding lines showed promise in improved yields and other agronomic characteristics over existing varieties. One short grain entry, 91-Y-171, that ranked second in yield in very early maturity tests is for Foundation seed increase during 1995. In the section Variety Trials you will learn about a fertilizer study that examined the relationship between nitrogen and potassium.

Geneticists continue their work with the building blocks of life to improve California rice. A number of crosses from exotic lines are introducing genetic variability into California rice. Meanwhile, advanced molecular techniques are enabling researchers to identify the genes that will ultimately increase seedling vigor, submergence tolerance, stem rot resistance, cold tolerance and rice water weevil tolerance. Work also continues on breeding hybrid rice. Read about these developments in two sections of the annual report - Genetics and Marker-Assisted Breeding.

Perhaps in no other area is research more critical right now than in weed control. Resistance to the herbicide Londax by certain weeds has spread throughout the rice growing areas of California, heightening the need for alternative chemicals and alternative approaches to weed management. Researchers report on progress in managing weeds in the Weed Control section, as well as in a related project on Rice-Weed Dynamics.

How will different methods of straw management affect the incidence of stem rot and other rice diseases? That's a question of increasing concern as the phase down of open field burning continues. UC Davis plant pathologists are examining that question and are also looking at methods of predicting disease severity, the interaction among diseases, and sources of resistance to diseases. Read about this work in the section on Rice Diseases.

UC Davis entomologists continue to study the Rice Water Weevil and methods for its control in the section on Invertebrate Pests. Last year they examined several promising insecticides with "new chemistry." They also looked closely at rice plant response to RWW under different seeding methods. It appears that drill-seeded rice will withstand heavier RWW infestations better than waterseeded rice. Researchers acknowledge, however, the practical limitations, such as more difficult weed control, in this approach.

A new project last year took stock of the diversity of insects in flooded rice fields. These scientists are from UC Santa Cruz and have developed an interesting list of these species. Their goal is to observe and document changes in beneficial and pest insects resulting from changes in farm management techniques. This work is reported in the section Insects in Flooded Rice Fields.

Knowledge of what happens to rice pesticides in soil and water is a crucial concern. They affect the decisions we make as environmental stewards and the decisions regulators will make about the options we have for their use. Environmental toxicologists from UC Davis are finding that "hard" water will help pesticides break down faster. They've also been studying whether the copper accumulation from bluestone applications poses any sort of threat to long-term rice production. Continuing research has confirmed that an herbicide breakdown product is causing toxicity to rice plants under certain conditions. Read about these developments in the section on the Environmental Fate of Rice Pesticides.

Researchers also completed a six-year study of the effects of different rice straw disposal methods on a continuous rice system. What was unusual about this study was it also examined another variable - a winter cover crop. Find out what these scientists learned about the interplay between disposal methods and cover crop and how it affected straw decomposition, disease incidence and nitrogen nutrition in the section Interaction of Rice Straw Incorporation and Winter Cover Cropping.

While we growers experiment with different methods of dealing with the residue left behind after harvest, another research project is analyzing the composition of rice straw - information that may develop this "waste" into a potential resource. After looking at 50 varieties, they've determined a fairly broad range of characteristics that will give geneticists a more diverse pool of traits to select from in future breeding efforts. Read about this work in the section Characterization of Rice Straw.

It's hard not to turn on the television or pick up a newspaper these days and see how computers are affecting our lives. The rice industry is no exception. Growers now have a new tool at their disposal - an "expert" computer software program to assist in recordkeeping and to provide management guidelines. Some growers are already successfully using it on computers small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. Scientists are continuing to work with growers to refine this program, CALEX/Rice. Read about it in the section Computer Management of California Rice.

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Western Regional Research Center continue their efforts to determine what it is about rice that makes it so nutritionally desirable. In the Utilization & Product Development section of the report learn about the "glycemic response" attributed to rice and other advances these scientists are making in techniques to improve processing technology and quality assessment.

Finally, in spite of the tremendous strides that the Agricultural Burn Program has made in more than a decade of operation, an unusual weather system behaved unpredictably last November 1. Prevailing winds blew smoke into urban areas, so citizen complaints shot up last year. Additional precautions are being implemented to ensure against such an occurrence in the future. Nonetheless, air quality monitoring shows that California rice growers continue to be thoughtful environmental stewards and good neighbors to our urban cousins. Read about these developments in the Agricultural Burn Program section of the report.

That's a quick overview of what you'll find in this, the 26th Annual Report to the California Rice Growers. Please take a few minutes to read and learn about the vita I research supported by you through the Rice Research Board. Our continued success depends upon the hard work of both the growers and the scientific community working together to solve problems and to create new opportunities.

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