Rice researchers collaborate to help farmers

Frances Gould, Schultz, Bruce  |  10/24/2013 6:31:54 PM

Dr. Mo Way, Texas A&M entomologist, discusses insect treatments at an LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station Field Day. Way has worked closely with LSU AgCenter scientists to monitor the eastward spread of the Mexican rice borer.

Dr. Tim Walker, Mississippi State University agronomist, works with LSU AgCenter researchers on a variety of projects involving fertilization.

Dr. Rick Cartwright, University of Arkansas plant pathologist, tells farmers about fungicide applications. Cartwright collaborates with LSU AgCenter researchers on rice diseases.

Rice researchers at universities throughout the rice-growing regions of the United States work together in a collaboration to help farmers.

"It’s essential we have very close cooperation among the public rice research institutes because there are so few of us," said Dr. Steve Linscombe, LSU AgCenter regional director and research coordinator of its Rice Research Station. "Just about every researcher who works in rice works with counterparts in other states."

Linscombe said the national rice acreage of 3 million is a minor part of the national agricultural economy of wheat, corn and soybeans – meaning rice also has a much smaller portion of the research resources and personnel. "So it’s essential for us to cooperate as closely as we possibly can," Linscombe stressed.

Each state has a limited amount of checkoff dollars from farmers to use for research, Linscombe said, and researchers working together give producers a better return on their investment. "It benefits all rice farmers in all the rice-growing states," he said.

Researchers also work together to get federal approval of new pesticides to control diseases, insects and weeds.

Cooperation has resulted in formal agreements to join forces. Linscombe said RiceCAP, a federally funded collaborative project to study rice diseases and milling quality, drew researchers from all rice-growing states.

The Rice Technical Working Group assembles all rice researchers from the United States and around the world to exchange research ideas and findings, Linscombe said. It is held every other year, with the next session set for 2012 in Arkansas.

Linscombe said LSU and universities from Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, California and Texas participate in the Uniform Regional Nursery, a multistate yield-testing program for new advanced lines of rice. "It’s very important for us because it allows us to see how my advanced experimental lines will perform in different environments," Linscombe said.

Dr. Farman Jodari, rice breeder at the California Rice Experiment Station, also participates in the Uniform Regional Nursery by growing lines from the southern rice-growing states, Linscombe said, even though it’s unlikely any of those lines would ever be grown commercially in California. "It just provides a different growing environment for testing," Linscombe added.

Linscombe said the biggest breakthrough variety in the early 1980s, Lemont, resulted from collaboration between Texas A&M and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Another benefit of collaboration in the Uniform Regional Nursery, according to Linscombe, is that breeding programs in the various states are able to use experimental lines from other states as parents for crossing to create new lines.

Dr. Don Beighley, Southeast Missouri State University rice breeder, said growing lines from other breeding programs is mutually beneficial for everyone involved.

"I look at the URN (Uniform Regional Nursery) as a real good collaborative effort," Beighley said, adding that he uses germplasm from lines tested in the nursery program to develop new lines.

Beighley said he has started using the winter nursery at LaJas, Puerto Rico, where a crew of workers does much of the labor for all participating universities, from cleaning seed to preparing the land. That ensures the work gets done when it’s needed, and the expenses are reduced. "It would be almost cost-prohibitive to send a crew down there every time you need something done," he said.

In another cooperative effort, Dr. Gene Reagan, LSU AgCenter entomologist, has worked with Dr. Mo Way, Texas A&M rice specialist, to study the movement and expansion of the Mexican rice borer in both rice and sugarcane.

Way said working with researchers from different universities results in larger pool of knowledge and expertise.

"It’s the old adage that two heads are better than one," he said, adding, "I can’t overemphasize the cooperation.

"We’re just able to do so much more. All of our scientists over here work almost on a daily basis with the folks at the LSU AgCenter."

Way has been a presenter at field days at the LSU AgCenter’s Rice Research Station, and he said many of the scientists from the Louisiana station have given talks at Texas A&M field days.

Combining efforts also has a strategic advantage, according to the experts. Dr. Tim Walker, Mississippi State University agronomist, said approval of a grant application requires a partnership between universities.

"The more folks you have at the table, the better your chances are," he said. "You pretty much have to have a regional focus."

Resources are limited for rice research, he stressed.

"There are not a lot of rice states, and then when you start looking at research dollars, there’s not a lot," Walker said. "We’re just able to stretch the dollars out further."

Walker is working with Dr. Dustin Harrell, LSU AgCenter agronomist, on sensor-based nitrogen management us ing a device, called the Greenseeker, that measures the vigor and health of a crop to tailor fertilizer applications throughout a field.

Walker said he also works with the LSU AgCenter on fertilizer trials and variety testing. He said he worked with LSU AgCenter researchers studying ways of decreasing lodging potential of CL151.

Research that includes multistate testing is more valuable, according to Walker, who explained, "In one year, you’ve got several different environments. We have a lot more confidence that way."

Dr. Mike Stout, LSU AgCenter entomologist, said only a handful of rice research entomologists are in the United States. "So we have to work together," he said.

Stout said rice entomologists meet two or three times a year to stay informed about developments related to insect pests and treatments.

He said the work of researchers in several states all seeking federal approval for an insecticide improves its chances of getting the green light.

Stout also said a federally funded research project is under way involving rice-producing states.

"It’s basically a cooperative grant with Texas, Arkansas, Missouri and Louisiana," Stout said. "It’s a good way for us to get more work done if we divide it up."

Dr. Don Groth, LSU AgCenter plant pathologist, said cooperation among universities is essential. "Without it, some of the work just wouldn’t get done," he said.

For example, Groth said Dr. Rick Cartwright, University of Arkansas plant pathologist, conducts work on smut disease. Inducing the disease for research purposes is inconsistent in Louisiana, but farmers occasionally have to cope with the disease.

Groth said he was traveling to Texas a few years ago to conduct disease evaluations two or three times a year because no rice pathologists were in the Lone Star State.

He said rice pathologists from the rice-growing states meet every other year to divide assignments to make sure the full spectrum of research is conducted.

Cartwright said he and Groth, along with other pathologists in the Rice Belt, are putting together a compendium of rice diseases, but he said that is just one example of a collaborative effort.

"We have a long history of working with Don Groth and Chuck Rush (retired LSU AgCenter pathologist)," Cartwright said.

Testing experimental lines for disease resistance is essential to make sure new varieties have sound genetics, Cartwright said. "We have a strong connection with breeding programs to develop varieties that not only have good yield but also have resistance to disease risks," he said.

Cartwright said Arkansas and Louisiana growing conditions are similar enough that pathologists can alert each other to disease problems and solutions.

"We have very similar issues," Cartwright said. "The details vary, but the trends and principles are the same."

(This article was published in the 2011 Louisiana Rice Research Board Annual Report.)

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