A Trip to Spain

A field of the rice variety Bomba growing in the delta of the Ebro River in Spain. Bomba is a very old variety used to prepare a special local dish called paella.

My wife, Judy, and I recently had the opportunity to visit Spain as a guest of Dr. Paul Christou, a world-renowned plant biotechnologist/molecular biologist. Dr. Christou is a research professor with the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA), a foundation supported by the Catalan government to recruit top scientists and strengthen research in the Catalonia region of Spain. In Dr. Christou’s case, he has set up a major research program at the University of Lleida, which is located in the city of that name. His wife, Teresa Capell, also a molecular biologist, works closely with him in his research efforts. Founded in 1300, the University of Lleida is a beautiful campus with a rich history. Production agriculture continues to be an important emphasis of the university today, including strong teaching and research efforts in crop production and animal sciences. Catalonia is an autonomous community of Spain located in the northeast corner of the country. Its largest city is Barcelona, which is located on the Mediterranean Sea. Lleida is located approximately 100 miles east of Barcelona.

I had the opportunity to give an extended lecture while at the University of Lleida. I discussed rice production in Louisiana and the United States in general, as well as the research efforts at the Rice Research Station. There was great interest in production methods, as well as the various areas of research conducted at our research facility. Dr. Christou has 23 individuals working in his lab. Most of these individuals are Ph.D. students, with a few students pursuing master’s degrees. While a number of these students are from Spain, most are from numerous other countries from around the world. It was obvious that these students were the best and the brightest in molecular biology, but most had little practical experience in actual production agriculture. I think that I educated many of them, and I know that they educated me.

While there, we visited the rice production area in the delta region of the Ebro River. This river is the longest in Spain and has its headwaters in the Cantabria region of northern Spain. It flows southeasterly for 565 miles and empties into the Mediterranean, midway between Barcelona and Valencia. The delta region of the river was created by river flooding prior to the construction of extensive irrigation and water control projects beginning in the 19th century. Approaching it from the west takes one through fairly significant mountainous areas. As the final mountain is crested, the delta appears jutting out into the sea. The first thing one notices is the green hue that predominates the flat delta region because of extensive rice production.

Rice production in the delta area approaches 60,000 acres in some years. The extensive irrigation system is modern and efficient and, in many cases, includes tail water recovery systems for re-use of water. Water seeding is typically employed using broadcast systems on iron-wheeled tractors. The varieties grown are a mixture of very old traditional Spanish varieties as well as new varieties developed by Spanish or Italian breeding programs. Clearfield rice was recently introduced, and I walked in several fields planted to this technology system. Many of their production problems are similar to those encountered in Louisiana. Two that were very evident were red rice and blast disease.

Our hosts also provided us a good dose of sightseeing, and the cathedrals, monasteries and castles we visited were truly impressive. The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona is a large Roman Catholic cathedral that has been under construction since 1882. It is amazing in its architecture and beauty. The Montserrat is a Benedictine monk retreat built into a very unique mountain range east of Barcelona that offers spectacular mountain views as far away as the Pyrenees Mountains that separate Spain from France. Some of the most impressive features that I witnessed on several occasions were centuries-old Spanish buildings that had been constructed on top of Roman ruins. In many of these building, the ruins below had been excavated and appeared as they had been when constructed over 2,000 years ago.

This trip reinforced that there is excellent science conducted worldwide, and research scientists need to collaborate for mutual benefit to our producers. Dr. Christou and I have conducted cooperative research for more than 25 years, and this recent visit will certainly foster collaboration well into the future.

Permission granted August 15, 2012 by B. Leonards (LA Farm & Ranch) to republish article on www.lsuagcenter.com.
8/16/2012 11:22:52 PM
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