Chairman's Report - 95


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Rice Research Board Chairman, Steve Dennis


What an eventful year! From the unpredictability of Mother Nature to ongoing production challenges in weed control and straw management to the pending release of three new varieties, 1995 kept the California rice industry on its toes ... and at times on the edge of our seats. We can't do much about the weather, but we can put our best minds to work on many of the production and marketing challenges that face us. In the following pages of the 27th annual report to the California rice growers, you will learn more about how your research dollars are being spent to tackle these challenges.

Rice acreage slipped a bit in 1995 to 465,000 acres, a decrease of 20,000 acres from the previous year. A seemingly never-ending winter delayed planting in much of rice country and left its impact in markedly reduced rice yields. Production dropped from 8,500 pounds per acre in 1994 to 7,600 pounds per acre last year.

Plant breeders at the Rice Experiment Station released three new varieties - L-204, an early maturing long grain with improved taste; A-201, an earlier maturing aromatic; and S-102, a very early, high-yielding short grain. In this report plant breeders also discuss their efforts to incorporate important agronomic traits, such as stem rot resistance, into California-adapted varieties.

The rice varieties of tomorrow will be developed from the genes of today. In the genetics laboratory at UC Davis a team of scientists is using advanced techniques in molecular biology to identify important genes in California cultivars, as well as in rice from other breeding nurseries. These scientists have also made significant progress in engineering disease resistance into rice.

In the Variety Trials section of this report you will learn how advanced experimental lines are faring in growers' fields and at the Rice Experiment Station. This research also included an examination of different straw management techniques under flooded and non-flooded conditions and an analysis of differences in field water salinity and its potential impact on yield.

Of paramount concern is the ongoing problem of Londax-resistant rice weeds. In the span of just four years resistance has spread throughout the rice-growing regions of the state. Researchers report in the Weed Control section on their examination of old and new herbicides for weed control. Alternative strategies are emerging. As this information is developed, researchers will update it and make it accessible to growers on the Internet. A 'home page' on the World Wide Web was developed this last year. Now anyone with a computer and a modem can find text and images about weeds and the herbicides available to treat them.

Another pest in our fields, the rice water weevil, made an 'intense' but late appearance last year, according to our entomologists. With the pending loss of Furadan, researchers report good news in the form of three new promising insecticides - Fipronil, Karate and Dimilin - to deal with the weevil. These scientists also are intensifying biological studies in an attempt to find this pest's Achilles heel.

In our ongoing efforts to be good neighbors and good stewards, we fund research into the fate of the chemicals we use in the production of California rice. Environmental toxicologists have turned their attention to the disposition of copper in the environment. Concentrations of copper are currently not high and do not pose a significant threat to water quality. However, this research and the current regulatory climate suggest a long-term copper management strategy may be advisable.

Additionally, the toxicologists' work indicates that regulatory testing procedures may not accurately reflect field conditions; the cause of stunting in thiobencarb-treated fields was analyzed; and Fipronil got high marks for its safety toward non-target organisms and was found to dissipate rapidly in the environment. A separate toxicological study determined that molinate is metabolized differently in humans and rats, allaying potential human health concerns.

In addition to herbicide resistance, the other big production issue currently facing the industry is straw management. Regardless of the status of the phasedown in open field burning, we must continue to explore alternative methods of coping with straw left behind after harvest. Research may help turn some of this waste into a resource to be exploited. With an eye on the development of a new ethanol energy plant in Gridley, the Rice Research Board funded a study of an enzyme treatment of rice straw. Different enzymes were found to have varying impacts on the conversion of rice straw to ethanol.

Perhaps more importantly where straw management is concerned is the impact that the burning phasedown will have on the long-term productivity of our fields. Plant pathologists are studying how different residue management strategies affect rice disease. Read about this project, fungicide testing, germplasm screening and progress toward the development of a method to predict stem rot severity in the section on Rice Diseases.

The agricultural burn program has again demonstrated its crucial value to the industry by ensuring that smoke from the relatively few fields we managed to bum last year dissipated into the atmosphere and did not blow downwind into our urban neighbors. The information generated by this program continues to show little correlation between rice field burning and the dirty air of the Sacramento Valley.

We farmers know that the lifeblood of our enterprise is water. In an attempt to document the value that water represents to the Sacramento Valley, we commissioned two prominent UC Davis economists to analyze what might happen to our communities if sources of surface irrigation water were suddenly unavailable. This study showed that a 25 percent reduction in water could result in the loss of hundreds of jobs and millions in lost income in a region with few alternatives.

Researchers at the the USDA’s Western Regional Research Center in Albany conduct nutritional analyses, quality assessments and experiment with new processing technology - all critical to the development of new rice products for domestic and foreign markets. This last year they continued their studies of the beneficial components of rice bran, particularly those associated with cholesterol reducing properties. Additional research peered into the molecular nature of starch in different rice varieties. Another effort is developing the technology to enhance the value of rice bran.

That's a quick take on the work funded by the Rice Research Board during 1995. I hope you will take a few moments to read through this, the 27th annual report to the California Rice Growers, to learn in more detail what our ongoing investment is bringing us. I trust you will agree that our continued support of scientific research is vital to keeping rice farming a healthy, vibrant industry.

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