Rice breeders look at both quality and yield

Frances Gould, Schultz, Bruce

Ida Wenefrida, LSU AgCenter rice researcher, runs a cereal chemistry analyzer that tests amylose content of rice varieties being developed at the Rice Research Station.The lab is part of the Rice Research Station’s on going emphasis on grain quality.

Rice grains undergo a test to determine the gelatinization temperature of a line of rice. The grains are soaked in a solution overnight that causes grains to swell to determine how long a line of rice has to be cooked.

Grain quality is a high priority for the LSU AgCenter and other university rice breeding programs, although yield is an important part of the equation, according to Steve Linscombe, LSU AgCenter rice breeder and director of the LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station.

“The pure-line varieties out there right now for the most part have very high quality with the same cereal chemistry characteristics that the Southern long-grain variety standard was based on,” Linscombe said.

Quality is considered early in the breeding process. “It’s a big part of what the breeders do,” Linscombe said. “We don’t only place emphasis on yield.”

John Morgan, vice president of Louisiana Rice Mill, said a task force formed following the 2010 crop has increased awareness of the quality issue, and the AgCenter breeding program is responsive to industry needs.

Some of the quality issues involve the wide range of several varieties with varying grain shapes mixed in batches to be milled, resulting in increased broken and cracked grains, Morgan said.

Cereal chemistry is analyzed to determine factors such as gel temperature, amylose content and cooking characteristics, Linscombe said. “That’s a large part of what all the breeding programs do.”

A new cereal chemistry lab operating at the station under Ida Wenefrida enables a quick analysis of breeding lines being reviewed for development.

The equipment, bought with farmer checkoff funds, will enable breeders to make decisions sooner about which lines should be kept in variety development, Linscombe said. “It makes it easier from the standpoint of turnaround time.”

Even if a breeding line has good quality and yield potential, other factors can prevent breeders from bringing that line to commercial availability.

“You could fill an entire page with all the characteristics we are looking at beyond yield,” Linscombe said.

For example, a hybrid line at the station, named LAH10, has consistently out-yielded commercial hybrids, and it shows good quality charac teristics. “It will probably never be commercialized because it’s too tall,” Linscombe said. But yield is an important factor, particularly under the current market structure.

Farmers have no choice but to grow rice that produces high yields. “Producers are interested in the bottom line,” he said. “If they are paid the same, they will grow what makes the most money. That’s the situation in place for the market until the mechanism is in place for producers to be rewarded for growing a higher quality variety that might not yield as much.”

Concern about quality issues came to the surface in 2010 when the crop was stressed by abnormally hot weather. But a less-than-optimum growing season does not automatically result in bad quality, and 2014 is proving to be a good example of that. Linscombe and others have been surprised by this year’s crop.

“Quality was good last year, and this year at this point it’s been as good as or better than last year,” Linscombe said. “I’m amazed we’ve got as good of a crop as we have.”

This article was published in the 2015 Louisiana Rice Research Board Report.

3/3/2015 10:35:38 PM
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