NEW ORLEANS – A four-day international gathering of more than 400 rice scientists and agricultural industry representatives came to a close Wednesday (March 3).
The Rice Technical Working Group, which held its 30th meeting, is a convergence of scientists and agricultural company representatives who present details on their research. The next session will be held in 2006 in Texas.
In addition to the discussions on research, the group also presented Distinguished Service Awards to four people from Louisiana for their lengthy careers in the rice industry. They were Dr. Bill Brown, who is retiring this year as LSU AgCenter vice chancellor for research; Dr. Pat Bollich, an LSU AgCenter agronomist; Dr. Joe Musick, who retired last year as director of the LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station in Crowley; and Salmon L. Wright, founder of Wright Enrichment Inc. of Crowley.
The Wright company provides enrichment of rice with minerals and vitamins for food companies around the world, including Kellogg, which named Wright as a Valued Supplier. In 1995, Wright was chosen by the Crowley Chamber of Commerce as Outstanding Business Person of the Year.
Dr. Don Groth, plant pathologist at the Rice Research Station, served as secretary for the Rice Technical Working Group meeting and said the New Orleans conference drew scientists whose fields include entomology, plant pathology, agronomy, weed control and genetics.
"This just gives us a forum to get together," Groth said. "The big thing I’ve seen here is people making contacts and discovering what research is going on."
Representatives from 10 countries outside the United States attended, including Uruguay, Brazil, Colombia, Italy and Belgium, he said.
The informal atmosphere allows ample time to swap ideas and learn about new technology, Groth explained, adding that, of the 80 research papers presented, a fourth were from industry representatives.
During the meeting, scientists presented 20-minute summaries of their research. In addition, posters were displayed with details about other ongoing research.
LSU AgCenter scientists presented numerous papers and posters. Much of the research from several universities addressed issues related to the herbicide-resistant Clearfield variety of rice, which was developed at the AgCenter’s Rice Research Station at Crowley.
Researchers who prepared posters were on hand to provide more details about their work, and extension agents from rice-growing parishes got information they can pass along to growers, Groth said. The poster sessions drew considerable attention, according to Groth, who said the attention was more than he’s seen at any other professional society meetings.
H. Rouse Caffey, chancellor emeritus of the LSU AgCenter, said he was impressed by the showing of the LSU AgCenter at the meeting.
"Don Groth and his cadre of people have done an outstanding job," Caffey said.
Caffey, who directed the LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station in Crowley from 1962 until 1970, said he has been involved with the Rice Technical Working Group since 1958, and this year’s conference gave him the chance to catch up with old friends. "It’s kind of like a homecoming for me," he said.
The former AgCenter chancellor said it also gives younger professionals a chance to meet the veterans.
"This is development of people for the future," he said. "It teaches them that research has to be disseminated. That’s what we call technical transfer through the Extension Service."
Caffey said the working group conferences are a one-stop shop for anyone whose work involves rice.
"You have a whole diversity of the rice industry," Caffey said.
Caffey said he was impressed with presentations on the economic outlook for rice, as well as a talk by the LSU AgCenter’s rice specialist Dr. Johnny Saichuk of the Rice Research Station, who told attendees about a verification program that compares farmers’ results in the field with laboratory findings.
"He (Saichuk) has added immeasurably to the fine-tuning of research by observing things not ordinarily seen in a controlled situation," Caffey said.
Caffey also said the poster sessions provide access to a multitude of subjects, even recipes for using rice flour to make bread.
Ben Noble, vice president of government affairs for the USA Rice Federation, had mixed news on the agricultural horizon. He said the looming federal budget deficit, expected to reach $500 billion for the upcoming fiscal year, could affect federal payments to farmers.
Noble said the increase in defense spending exceeds the entire federal agriculture budget.
"We really are a cheap date, if you will," Noble remarked. "We really don’t cost a whole lot."
The actual spending under the current federal Farm Bill has been less than expected because of higher commodity prices farmers are getting for their crops, Noble added.
Agriculture nationwide is on the upswing after two consecutive years of Depression-era prices, he said. "I’m glad to see smiles on farmers’ faces this year," Noble said. "It’s been a long time since we’ve seen that."
Noble also said a federal Farm Payment Limit Commission has concluded that no changes are warranted for the methodology used to determine federal payments to farmers.
"I hope Congress will heed their recommendation," he said.
In addition, Noble said the World Trade Organization talks collapsed last year because of disputes involving agricultural issues, and he said it’s unlikely U.S. officials will try to revive the talks until after the presidential election.
Now efforts have focused on regional trade talks, such as the proposed Central American Free Trade Agreement. He said work is ongoing for rice market access in Mexico, Japan and the European Union.
The expert also said fully restoring the U.S. rice market’s No. 1 buyer, Cuba, isn’t likely to happen until after the presidential election. Most of the House and Senate voted to loosen trade and travel restrictions for Cuba, but the issues weren’t resolved in the final congressional package, Noble said.
Efforts continue to sell American rice to Iraq, Noble said, where the demand for the product has doubled since U.S. rice was sold there. Iraq is another country that, like Cuba, was once at the top of the market for U.S. rice until trade sanctions halted sales.
A U.S. trade delegation met last week in Jordan with the Iraqi Grain Board. Word came Wednesday from the Rice Market Letter that those talks may soon result in the sale of U.S. rice to Iraq, because Vietnam cannot deliver its product quickly enough.
On the domestic market, Noble said, the rice industry has to accept that the low-carbohydrate diet trend isn’t fading. But he said brown rice is in harmony with the diet, and a "Rice Fits" campaign soon will get under way to tell that to American consumers.
Consumers often avoid brown rice because of longer cooking times, a short shelf life and different taste, Noble said, but that’s something that could be addressed by researchers.
One paper presented at the meeting this week by the LSU Medical Center in New Orleans told about research into a processing method that could decrease brown rice cooking time and improve shelf life.
Noble said 10 percent of the rice consumed in the United States consists of imported basmati and aromatic varieties preferred by much of the Far East ethnic population that perceives U.S.-grown basmatic and aromatic varieties as inferior.
In other news from the meeting:
–A representative of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, Nguu Van Nguyen of Rome, told those attending the meeting that 2004 has been declared the International Year of Rice by the U.N. General Assembly, with the slogan of "Rice is Life." Rice is a staple of life for more than half the world’s population, he said.
Nathan Childs, agricultural analyst for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said high rice prices are projected to induce farmers nationwide to increase the amount of land cultivated for rice by 250,000 acres this year. Prices, now in the range of $9 per hundredweight, are projected to fall below $6 per hundredweight. by year’s end, Childs said, adding, however, that the predicted price decrease is based on several assumptions and doesn’t consider the higher prices for commodities, such as soybeans, which could persuade some farmers to plant soybeans instead of rice.
–Donna Mitten of Bayer CropScience said European Union acceptance of Liberty Link rice could be granted in two years. The genetically modified variety is resistant to the glufosinate herbicide. Russia has given its approval, she said, and Liberty Link also is under review in Brazil, Canada and Mexico.
–Rice farmer Ernest Girouard of Crowley, chairman of the Louisiana Rice Research Board, said he planted a test plot of Liberty Link and he was highly impressed with it. "I look forward to growing this rice before I retire," he told Mitten.
Writer: Bruce Schultz at (337) 788-8821 or email@example.com