Eunice farmer Mike Fruge with the harvest of his Frontiere variety.
A unique rice variety developed by AgCenter researchers Herry Utomo and Ida Wenefrida was grown in 2019 by a Louisiana farmer who has started his own rice brand.
The variety, Frontiere, was bred for a higher protein level. Most rice has a protein content of approximately 6%. The protein level in Frontiere is 10.6%.
“The idea is to address malnutrition, especially in developing countries,” said Wenefrida, an LSU AgCenter plant biotechnologist.
Utomo, an LSU AgCenter geneticist, said rice is a staple of the diet in many developing nations where people often lack enough protein.
“Typically, in most tropical countries, it’s very expensive to buy meat,” Utomo said. “It’s getting better, but there is still an acute malnutrition problem.”
The protein level was boosted through mutational breeding. Seeds of the rice variety Cypress, chosen for its high milling quality, were exposed to a chemical agent that induces genetic mutations. Using genetic screening, Utomo found lines with high lysine levels that indicate a higher amount of protein.
Utomo said they are working to boost the protein level even higher.
Wenefrida said efforts are underway to boost the yields. Currently, Frontiere yields are 7% lower than Cypress.
Eunice rice farmer Michael Fruge grew two fields of Frontiere in Louisiana and said the variety was fairly resistant to sheath blight. “Actually, it seems to have less sheath blight than some of my other rice,” Fruge said.
The rice is a long grain, but it cooks with medium-grain rice characteristics, he said. Frontiere is softer than most American long-grain rice varieties, and it tends to become mushy if it’s cooked too long, Wenefrida said.
Given the low yield reports throughout south Louisiana in 2019, Fruge said he was pleased with the 142- to 145-bushel yield from Frontiere.
Fruge has a label for the rice that he has branded as Prairie Acadian. It will be processed and bagged at Falcon Rice Mill in Crowley.
Fruge bought Frontiere seed from farmer Blake Gerard, who is growing Frontiere in Illinois across the Mississippi River from St. Louis.
Bob Butcher obtained an exclusive license with the LSU AgCenter to grow Frontiere in Illinois. It is sold under the trade name Cahokia, after an American Indian tribe from the St. Louis area.
Butcher said he learned about Frontiere when he started looking for a unique rice variety to sell.
“LSU’s rice with naturally higher protein was about the only thing I could find,” he said.
Butcher said the rice is appealing because of its nutty flavor.
He said he is about to start selling Frontiere rice flour for baking. He said a graduate student working under Joan King, LSU AgCenter food scientist, tested the rice flour possibility.
Normally, he said, rice flour isn’t suited for baking because of low protein levels, but Frontiere-based rice flour doesn’t have that problem, and it is gluten-free.
Farmer Mike Fruge, at left, with the developers of Frontiere rice, LSU AgCenter faculty members Ida Wenefrida, center, and Herry Utomo.