Rice Farming

Keep Your Eyes Peeled

If something looks weird, it probably is

By Brenda Carol

A difficult thing for anyone to acknowledge is “’fessing” up to a problem, but it’s a critical responsibility of every grower in the rice industry. Huge problems often start in very innocuous ways. What seems like a little glitch here or there could turn out to be an industry-wide issue.

“The hardest thing is to get guys to look for this stuff and then pick up a phone and call,” says Chris Greer, Farm Advisor for Sutter, Yuba, Placer and Sacramento counties. “There’s always a stigma attached to it. But if we don’t know about it, we can’t address it.”

California’s rice industry arguably has a stellar track record in crisis prevention and self-preservation. Even before the GMO issue became an issue, concerned entities within the industry called for prevention rather than waiting for mandated intervention. That led to the formation of the California Rice Commission. Passed in 2000, the California Rice Certification Act provides direction and establishes measures that enable the industry to regulate new rice variety introductions and research within the state.

“You can’t just go out there and plant anything you want to,” Greer says. “You have to develop a protocol and get it approved. It’s one of the things the California rice industry got pushed through to try to protect itself.”

Grower reports are key to solving issues
But even mandated state regulations are not enough to keep the industry’s fairly pristine reputation intact. Ultimately, it comes down to the grower.

“If there’s something out there in the field that doesn’t look quite right, we need to know about it now, not later on down the line,” Greer says. “As a farm advisor, I’m not in the business of pointing fingers or ratting out a farmer who happens to stumble across a problem in his field. We just want to be able to investigate the problem and try to figure out how to solve it and keep it from blowing up into a bigger issue.”

UC’s research with bakanae disease is a good example of what can be done to prevent a potentially devastating disease.

“We’ve shown that basically, for three dollars an acre, you can control the disease and not have a problem with it,” Greer says.

Keeping a sharp eye out for any potential problem is the first critical step.

“We’ve had three diseases in the last 11 years in California rice,” Greer says “We’ve had to deal with bakanae, rice blast and now false smut. We had kernel smut before that.”

New disease being scrutinized
False smut is the newest one on the horizon, but extremely limited at this point.

It was first reported in 2006.

“We saw a little bit more last year,” Greer says. “It was actually reported back in the ’40s in California. But I know people out here who have worked in rice for 35 years, and they’ve never seen it. Whether it was here some time ago and disappeared and then came back, I don’t know.

“Based on what I’ve been hearing in our grower meetings, I think there is probably more of it out there than we realize,” he adds. “The guys in the South consider it more of a nuisance than a real problem. It’s still early to tell what kind of impact it might have here.”

False smut typically mimics other smut diseases, but differs in its mode of infection.

“It basically infects the flower or the developing kernels,” Greer says. “A true smut replaces the endosperm with black spores. This one is not a true smut, therefore the term ‘false smut.’ When a grower first called me about it, he described it as rice kernels having corn nuts on them. It starts puffing up. It’s a lot bigger than the kernel. Where the kernel should be, you get this ball that forms between the lemma and the palea. It’s bright orange at first, and then as it matures, it turns an olive green color.”

The potential impact on California rice is still unknown, but researchers are keeping a close eye on it. No one yet has a definitive answer about whether or not it will impact yield and/or quality.

“That’s still a question,” Greer says. “In one field that I looked at last year, it would be hard to say. But I’ve been told anecdotally from another grower that he thought it had a pretty significant impact on his yield.”

No one even knows if or how it might spread in California. That’s another question researchers are trying to answer.

“What you wouldn’t want to do is take seed from a field that has it and use that seed for planting the next year,” Greer says. “Then you’re going to spread the disease throughout a bunch of other fields.”

Preventative approach may be necessary
Controlling false smut is yet another question to be addressed.

“I’ll do some trials this year with a few products to see what happens,” Greer says. “It’s a difficult trial to conduct simply because we haven’t seen that much of it, and we don’t know where it might pop up. It’s a really odd fungus. There are some fungicides that provide suppression, but not control.”

If false smut becomes a treatable problem, it will likely require a preventative approach.

“In the South, they’re using one application of Tilt,” Greer says. “Tilt is not registered in California, but Stratego is registered and includes the active ingredient of Tilt.”

Even though some of these diseases and other pest concerns are not an imminent threat to California’s rice industry, growers should still be vigilant, according to Greer.

“If you see something odd, give us a call,” he says.

Brenda Carol is a freelance writer based in California. Contact her at (209) 728-9226 or brenda@brendacarol.net.

PRM – a lot of unanswered questions

Another potential problem for growers to be on the lookout for is panicle rice mite (PRM). On Aug. 21, 2007, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) confirmed the detection of panicle rice mite, Steneotarsonemus spinki, at a rice research facility in Rayne, La., in Acadia parish. (See page 10).

PRM detections occurred within greenhouses and rice fields at that research facility. PRM was detected at a commercial rice research facility in Texas in July 2007 and at an associated research facility in Puerto Rico on Aug. 1, 2007.

There are two main reported hosts of PRM – rice, Oryza sativa, and the weedy red rice, Oryza latifolia. Under IPPC standards, the status of Steneotarsonemus spinki in the United States is considered to be “transient, actionable and under surveillance.”

“We don’t have it in California, supposedly, but it’s a concern,” Greer says. “There are a lot of unanswered questions. Can it survive outside of a greenhouse? Is it transmitted by seed?”

The known facts are disconcerting. Panicle rice mite can cause sterility. Infestations discolor the flag sheaf and panicle. It lives inside the sheath, making it difficult to detect in the field.

APHIS has issued Emergency Action Notifications to stop movement of all rice seed, rice plants and plant parts and farm equipment from the affected greenhouses and fields.