Jasmine rice is aromatic. Chenier is the gold standard for excellent milling quality. Frontière has a high-protein, low glycemic index (GI). New rice varieties can be targeted to enhance specific grain qualities that give the new variety potential marketability for a certain population or geographic region. It is these qualities that researchers at the H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station are working to identify, isolate and improve upon in Louisiana-grown rice.
Biotechnologist Ida Wenefrida said her work to isolate certain rice grain characteristics is driven by what consumers in specific markets are looking for. She described her work using the recent development of the Frontière variety as an example.
“In the case of Frontière, that’s a high-protein, low-GI long grain rice,” she said. “But rice consumers are not monolithic. They have a wide array of preferences. Some will say ‘Hey, we don't use long grain. We like medium grain rice, something like Bengal.’ So, we are working together with the rice specialty breeding to develop a new type of medium grain rice variety that offers similar specific grain qualities of high-protein and low-GI close to that of Frontière, but with grain chemistry, cooking and other grain characteristics that very closely resemble Bengal.”
Using that example, Wenefrida said creating a short grain cultivar that also delivers the health benefits of a higher protein content and a lower GI value would be beneficial to areas that use short grain varieties to make sushi. This is an example of a tremendous open opportunity of this type of research to create niche-based markets that command a true premium price.
The process of producing rice cultivars to meet consumer demands starts with mutational breeding at the Rice Research Station. Wenefrida explained it started at the very beginning by screening at cellular levels followed by at least three generations of successive selections both in the greenhouse and field to produce the “M3” generations. The rice specialty breeding involves numerous field selections and line purifications to secure stable expression of the traits while maintaining other agronomic traits for commercial production applications. The mutational breeding technology used to create these cultivars is not new, she explained. But using this technology to produce isolated rice grain characteristics is an intricate process that Wenefrida and her colleagues are working to improve to make Louisiana-grown rice more appealing to specific demographic markets. This is another way to make rice a more profitable commodity for Louisiana producers according to agricultural economist Kurt Guidry, resident coordinator of the H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station.
“With the majority of the rice market still primarily a commodity-based market, it is extremely important to continue to develop varieties that continue to increase productivity,” Guidry said. “However, to continue to expand total demand for rice and to look for ways to increase the value of rice, some of these varieties with unique characteristics are also important.”
Rice varieties like Frontière and the soon-to-be-released Addi Jo, a high-amylose variety being marketed to the Latin American consumers, have the potential to develop into niche markets, Guidry said. This, in turn, would support the rice industry as a whole by increasing the demand for rice.
Wenefrida said moving forward, work will continue on isolating rice characteristics that can open the doors for Louisiana-grown rice to be marketed as premium brands.