Rice Farming

Texas: Then & Now

Rice researchers simmer new ideas after pondering past

The Weather Channel Interactive, in partnership with Monsanto Co., has announced a new section dTexas rice isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Delicious? No doubt. Heavily consumed? Try 1.2 billion pounds this year. Economically beneficial? Think more than $170 million worth to the state this year. But there’s bound to be more tied up in the tiny kernels, Texas AgriLife Researchers think, so they pored over 50 years of data seeking the next clue for improvement. Then they took it to the next step – planting 23 of the varieties developed since 1944 to see how they might grow on today’s farm.

They found that their research predecessors combined selective breeding techniques with on-farm growing methods to continuously increase yield and quality of rices for Texas.

“These results demonstrate the significant progress that has been achieved in rice breeding for the southern United States since 1944,” says Dr. Rodante Tabien in the December issue of Crop Science Journal.

“Increase in rice production is generally associated to new varieties, but that is just part of the production system.

“Other technologies, like fertilizer, contributed to this increase in production as well,” he adds. “Our study will help new plant breeders learn how the pioneers did it, and the general public also can appreciate the hard work of the breeders in increasing food supply through the development of new cultivars.”

Tabien is the journal article’s lead author and an AgriLife Research rice breeder at Beaumont.

“The contribution of plant breeding is related to gains or improvement in various traits such as high yield and better resistance. The measured gains are clues to breeders on what traits to focus and what gains could be expected,” Tabien says. “If the gain is lower, the breeder may opt to look for ways to obtain higher gain.”

One way to do that, he explains, is to consider what previous plant breeders have studied on that trail, analyze what has been done and then look for other options to improve the gains.

“If the gain is higher, the new challenge will be what else can be done to increase it further. These will give hints and guide new breeders in what to do, avoid or search to increase the gains made by the previous breeders,” Tabien says.

Among the desirable traits for rice, Tabien explains, are the number of days it takes a plant to “head” or get the rice developing, the plant height, whole and total milled rice percentages and grain yield.

On the lookout for new rice traits
These traits are as important today as when the rice breeding program began almost 80 years ago, he says, plus scientists are considering new needs.

“Herbicide resistance is needed in rice for better weed control. Seedling cold tolerance and heat tolerance during the reproductive stage also will be needed in the coming years,” Tabien says. “Resistance to prevailing pests should be incorporated in new cultivars. Aside from the above mentioned traits, the traits on which we are currently focusing are fast tiller and leaf production, uniform flowering and nitrogen use efficiency.”

He says using wild rice strains to further increase grain yield is another effort of the scientists. The data thus far examines only the varieties released from 1944 to 1992. The team had begun to examine varieties and promising entries since 1993, Tabien says, but the experiment was damaged by last fall’s Hurricane Ike.

They plan to repeat the trial next year, and Tabien expects data from that experiment to be complete by 2011.

Texas A&M University contributed information for this article.

‘Texas Patna’ released in 1931

Rice had its start in Texas on about 175 acres in 1892. Early growers depended on foreign seed to adapt to the Texas soils and climate. By 1931, the USDA had established a program at AgriLife Research – then called Texas Agricultural Experiment Station – at Beaumont to study the science behind rice production.

In about 10 years, the first new variety, “Texas Patna,” was released to the farmers. The researchers continued to develop other possibilities in the program, successfully launching “Bluebonnet” in 1944. For the first 50 years, rice researchers released 26 varieties, according to Dr. Anna McClung, who initiated the historic look at the Texas rice-breeding program.

McClung, who is a scientist with USDA-ARS, looked at the selection process for specific traits and fertilizer use, which have an impact on yield and quality. Researchers found that over the years, each new variety was an improvement from the previous release.