Rice Variety Development - Looking to the Future

Steven Linscombe  |  3/16/2010 11:15:05 PM

Research plot of CL151

Each year, Dr. Johnny Saichuk, LSU AgCenter rice specialist, works with extension agents to determine how many acres of each rice variety/hybrid are planted in each Louisiana rice-producing parish. While this information is not 100 percent accurate, it is close enough, especially to denote varietal acreage trends from one year to the next. In 2009, Louisiana producers planted approximately 460,000 acres of rice, with the predominant variety being CL151, which was seeded on 26 percent of those acres. Other important long-grain varieties were CL161 (10 percent), Cocodrie (9 percent), CL131 (9 percent), Cheniere (8 percent) and Catahoula (4 percent). According to this information, RiceTec hybrids were planted on approximately 17 percent of the acreage, with the predominate ones being XL723, CLXL729 and CLXL745. The medium-grain variety Jupiter was planted on approximately 9 percent of the Louisiana acreage in 2009, and this along with a limited acreage of the newer medium-grain Neptune was the largest amount of area seeded to medium-grain varieties in many years in the state. This was primarily due to a price premium being offered for medium grains by some of the area mills.

This variety-by-acreage information offers valuable insight to many individuals, but especially to breeders and others here at the Rice Research Station. It is especially useful to observe trends, especially over years. One major trend is the increase in acreage planted to Clearfield rice types. A Clearfield line is a unique type of variety that allows for control of certain weeds with herbicides that cannot be used in conventional rice varieties. This technology was developed at the LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station and has dramatically improved weed control, as well as allowed major positive shifts in production technology. The acreage seeded to Clearfield varieties/hybrids has increased from 50 percent in 2008 to 62 percent in 2009 and is expected to increase to over 70 percent in 2010.

Also, while the 2009 acreage seeded to medium grains is a substantial increase over recent years, there has been a significant shift away from medium-grain acres in Louisiana in recent years. In the early 1980s, Louisiana producers grew approximately 65 percent of the state’s rice acreage in medium grains, and in the early 1990s, they were still planting about half of the acreage in medium grains. In some recent years (before 2009), the medium-grain acreage had fallen to less than 4 percent. There is no one explanation of this major shift. It is a function of changing markets and demands on the different grain types, as well as increases in the productivity of long-grain relative to medium-grain varieties over the past several years.

There has also been an increase in acres seeded to hybrids in recent years, and this trend is expected to continue. Currently, in the southern United States, the hybrids being marketed are produced by private companies. RiceTec is actively involved in rice hybrid commercialization, and most of the hybrid acreage is seeded with that company’s material. Bayer CropScience also has a hybrid development program for the southern United States and hopes to have commercial hybrids available soon. All of the currently available pureline (non-hybrid) varieties have been developed by public breeding programs in the southern United States similar to the one at the Rice Research Station in Crowley.

All of this marks a dramatic shift from what was being grown just 15 years ago. In 1995, for example, we were growing about 65 percent of our acres in long grains and 35 in medium grains. All of these were publicly developed (non-proprietary) conventional varieties. Since then, our rice variety development activities have grown more complex. We now have a major effort in the development of Clearfield varieties, both long-grain and medium-grain types. While our medium-grain acreage continues to be only a small percentage of the total Louisiana rice acreage, we must continue to have a long-term substantial effort in this area as market demands can shift quite suddenly, and we need to continue to provide improved varieties of this grain type to the industry. We have also recently initiated a hybrid development program because it appears that hybrids will continue to grow in importance, and we want to be able to provide these genetic types to Louisiana producers. The Rice Research Station also continues to devote time and resources to the development of special purpose varieties under the direction of Dr. Xueyan Sha. Dr. Sha has been successful in these efforts as evidenced by his recently released Jazzman variety, which will be planted on a substantial number of acres in 2010.

The question has also arisen recently on our overall efforts in conventional (as opposed to Clearfield) varieties. With over 70 percent of the state’s acreage in Clearfield types, will we continue to put substantial efforts in developing non-Clearfield types? The answer to this question is unequivocally yes. It is important to remember that in breeding rice, one needs to continually achieve genetic gain for yield, quality, agronomic traits, etc. It is irrelevant whether one is breeding for Clearfield types, hybrids or conventional types; the need for genetic gain is paramount. Therefore, a strong breeding effort in conventional types benefits all aspects of our breeding efforts, including Clearfield types and improved hybrids.

The bottom line is that because we have limited resources, personnel, land and other constraints, we must continue to make wise calculated decisions on where we focus our rice breeding efforts. Certainly, the check-off funds provided by rice producers and landowners through the Louisiana Rice Research Board enhances our capabilities in all these endeavors.

Permission granted 3/15/2010 by B. Leonards (LA Farm&Ranch) to republish article on www.lsuagcenter.com.
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