Steven Linscombe | 11/2/2016 5:42:01 PM
A Trip to China
H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station/Southwest Region
This is being written eastbound high over the Pacific Ocean on Delta flight 128. Dr. Dustin Harrell (H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station research agronomist and rice extension agronomist) and I are returning from a trip to Nanning which is located in southern China in Guangxi province. We arrived in Beijing on Sunday, Sept. 18, and departed the following Saturday. We were visiting as guests of the Rice Research Institute of the Guangxi Academy of Agricultural Science.
We have a cooperative research agreement with the academy dating back to 2009. It was through this agreement that we received our first male-sterile lines on which our rice hybrid breeding program is based today. Rice hybrids are actually F1 generation rice seed developed by pollinating the seed-bearing plants with pollen from a distinctly different rice line. To accomplish this, the seed-bearing plant must be male-sterile to prevent self-pollination. When we decided to establish a hybrid breeding effort, our first order of business was to obtain male-sterile lines, which at that time did not exist in our breeding program. We were able to establish communication with the Guangxi Academy and made our first trip to the facility in 2008. We quickly developed a good relationship with the scientists and administrators there and within a short period of time signed a research agreement and received the first shipment of hybrid breeding germplasm shortly thereafter. Since that time, our working agreement with the academy has strengthened, and Professor Weike Li, one of the academy’s leading hybrid breeders, has spent two extended periods at the rice station assisting us with our hybrid efforts.
Several of the Guangxi Academy administrators have changed since our initial agreement was signed, and we were invited back to meet the new people in these positons and to view the new germplasm lines that we may want to incorporate into our program. Hybrid rice was first developed in China in the 1970s, and this country has been a major innovator in this technology since that time. The Guangxi Academy has been one of the leaders in this technology, which makes our working relationship a valuable asset to the rice station.
Guangxi province produces approximately 4.5 million acres of rice each year, which is considerably more than the 2.7 million acres produced in the entire United States in 2016 (Louisiana’s acreage was 430,000 this year). The province’s production is predominately long-grain and approximately 30 percent is aromatic (primarily jasmine types). This production is about half inbred varieties and half hybrids. The percentage of hybrids has actually decreased in recent years as the demand for higher quality rice has increased.
The overall acreage of rice produced in China has seen a decrease in recent years as the people of the country become more affluent. This has led to more demand for meat products and less demand for rice as the average consumer has more income and, thus, can afford more protein-based nutrition. This is evidenced by the fact that several years ago, the acreage of corn in the country surpassed rice as the demand for livestock feed continued to rise. However, there is a growing demand for high quality rice, and the U.S. rice industry has long anticipated access to the Chinese markets. It is hoped that this access will become reality in the near future because an additional export market as large as China would certainly be an enhancement to the U.S. rice industry.
I first visited this country in 1990 and estimate that this is my tenth trip there. It is amazing how this country’s rice production has changed in this period of time. Twenty-six years ago essentially all the rice in China was hand-transplanted and hand-harvested. Today, most rice there is planted using some form of direct seeding and primarily combine-harvested. While much of this change has come about because of improvements in technology, much of it is also driven by labor shortages. This may be a surprise to most of us here in the U.S.; however, this country is advancing so rapidly technologically that the demand for workers in urban acres is creating labor shortages on the farms. It is understandable that most young people would much prefer a high-paying job in a bustling city than day in and day out in a rice paddy.
The skyline of these Chinese cities is also amazing. In every direction, there are numerous new high-rise buildings under construction. Most of these are apartment buildings as the demand for new housing is never ending. It is said that of all the high-rise construction cranes in the world today, 80 percent are in China, and I truly believe this statistic.
This project was partially supported by USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
Permission granted October 15, 2016 by B. Leonards (LA Farm & Ranch) to republish article on www.lsuagcenter.com.
Weike Li and Dustin Harrell evaluate wild rice lines in the rice breeding research area at the Rice Research Institute in Nanning.