Puerto Rico Critical to Rice Research Efforts

Steven Linscombe  |  5/15/2013 7:39:16 PM

Puerto Rico harvest

This is being written on April 25 aboard Delta Flight 420 winging over the Bahamas chain en route to Atlanta from San Juan. Brandon Frey, Herman Hoffpauir and I are returning from harvesting our last major rice breeding nursery of the winter of 2012-2013. This research endeavor in Puerto Rico is critical to our efforts to continually provide new improved varieties to the Louisiana rice industry. It allows us to expand our research efforts from the limited growing season in southwest Louisiana to a year-round program. Because Puerto Rico is a tropical environment, warm-season crops such as rice can be grown all 12 months of the year. The area is located at a latitude of 18 degrees and is far enough south to encounter little seasonal temperature influence. In fact, the average daily temperature varies only about 4 degrees F between summer and winter.

There are numerous areas in the Caribbean, Central and even South America that have the proper environment for a winter nursery. But because Puerto Rico is a Commonwealth of the United States, the rice seed we produce there can easily be returned to Crowley and planted directly into our research fields. Rice seed produced in a foreign country must be grown under strict greenhouse quarantine procedures prior to being planted in the field. This is according to USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service policies to prevent importation of noxious insects, weeds and diseases. This quarantine requirement would negate the utility of a winter nursery from time, facilities and expense standpoints anywhere other than in Puerto Rico.

Our research is conducted at the Lajas Experiment Station, which is part of the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez. The university has a number of research stations on the island similar to the LSU AgCenter’s system of research stations in Louisiana (including the Rice Research Station). The island of Puerto Rico is somewhat rectangular and approximately 100 miles east to west and 40-50 miles north to south. As a point of reference, San Juan, the largest city and capital, is near the northeast corner of the island, and our research site is in the Lajas Valley near the southwest corner.

The rice research site is a cooperative effort between the public breeding programs in Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Texas and the USDA Dale Bumpers Center. The joint program is conducted by a research agreement among the various programs and the UPR-Mayaguez. The main research site is approximately 30 acres shared by the programs. Several years ago as the AgCenter’s breeding program continued to expand, we signed a separate agreement with the university and began to use a new site exclusively. This more than doubled the amount of breeding material than can be evaluated, advanced and purified in our breeding efforts.

Using this past season as an example will illustrate how the program typically works. We made a large number of crosses (artificial hybridizations) during the summer of 2011 as we do each year. In February of 2012, seed from these crosses were planted in the greenhouse at the Rice Station. In mid-March these F1 plants were transplanted from the greenhouse into a research field. These plants had been started in the greenhouse, and when they were transplanted, they were well advanced of any rice plants from seed directly planted into the field. These plants reached maturity by early July and were hand harvested and dried. This F2 generation seed was then loaded for planting into seed cells by Karen Bearb in the breeding lab. We use a Hege row planting system in Puerto Rico similar to that used at the Rice Station. The seed was inspected by Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry personnel and then air freighted to Puerto Rico, where it was planted by Anthony Rivera (the director of the Puerto Rico program) on July 19.

The rice is grown in Puerto Rico just as it would be on the Crowley station using similar fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides. We traveled down to harvest on Monday, Dec. 13. Over a three-day period, we selected and harvested a large number of panicles from the numerous F2 populations. Some of this seed was shipped back to Crowley and has been planted this summer. However, selected lines were threshed, reloaded and then planted in Puerto Rico a few days later. That planting took about 4 ½ months to mature, and this is the material that we have just finished harvesting. The material in Puerto Rico was all F3 generation and will produce F4 generation breeding rows in Crowley this summer. In addition, we also bulked a number of rows that will go into a preliminary yield test on the Rice Station in 2013. A promising line from this yield test could produce a new rice variety as early as 2016. If we did not have the Puerto Rico nursery, we would be limited to growing only one generation each year at the Crowley research station. Under this scenario, it would have been 2015 at the earliest before any of these lines were even in a preliminary yield test.

We also commonly use the Puerto Rico location to increase seed of a potential new variety shortly prior to its release. Thus, it is easy to understand how the Puerto Rico station can decrease the timeline on the development of a new variety by three years, if not more. It is also important to point out that the Puerto Rico winter nursery is only possible because of funding provided by rice producer/landowner checkoff funds under the direction of the Louisiana Rice Research Board. Simply put – no checkoff funds, no Puerto Rico nursery.

Permission granted, May 15, 2013, by B. Leonards (LA Farm & Ranch) to republish article on www.lsuagcenter.com

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