Frances Gould | 10/3/2013 12:13:35 AM
Anthony Rivera has maintained the winter nursery for the LSU AgCenter at LaJas, Puerto Rico, for 15 years, and the the 41-year-old has played a role in the development of every new variety since he started doing work for the AgCenter.
Rivera has traveled to the LSU AgCenter’s Rice Research Station and attended the annual field day several times.
"I learn some different things about rice here that I wouldn’t learn in Puerto Rico," Rivera said of the trips. "It’s very important to learn new techniques and new ways to do things."
Being able to see harvest on a commercial production scale was new to Rivera, since rice hasn’t been grown as a crop in Puerto Rico in several decades – even though rice, usually medium-grain, is a staple for Puerto Rico’s population of 4 million.
Rivera doesn’t just grow rice for the LSU AgCenter, however, since winter nurseries are grown for Mississippi State University, Texas A&M and the University of Arkansas. "I work for everybody," Rivera said.
He oversees 70 acres of rice that include 50 acres for all the universities and an additional 20 acres for the LSU AgCenter’s hybrid program.
Rivera and his crew of five workers tend to the rice plots, applying fertilizer, pesticides and water. When the rice is ready for harvest, rice breeders arrive at the plots to make their selections.
Growing rice in Puerto Rico has similarities and differences from growing rice in the continental United States. The soil is heavy clay, similar to what’s found in Mississippi, he said.
Rivera said most of the weeds that are problems in the southern U.S. mainland are found in Puerto Rico, but red rice has not been a problem, probably because the rice seed is carefully cleaned before it arrives in Puerto Rico.
The island also does not have a rice water weevil problem. Diseases, especially blast in March and February, can be bad, however.
Rivera graduated from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez with a bachelor’s degree in agronomy and a master’s degree in horticulture.
As a student, he worked part time for RiceTec at its winter nursery.
"The difference from us is that by wintertime, you don’t have rice here (in Louisiana), and we have a big season," Rivera said. "Most of the planting is done by December."
By February, all rice is in permanent flood, with a harvest in March and April.
August through November is the rainy season in Puerto Rico. And, of course, hurricanes are a concern then, as well.
Birds are one of the biggest problems in Puerto Rico. Large nets have to be spread over the plots to protect the maturing rice from finches and doves. "Sometimes we have 10 or 15 plots to cover," Rivera said.
(This article was published in the 2013 Louisiana Rice Research Board Annual Report.)
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