⋅ By Kyle Peveto ⋅
A cooperative research project between the LSU AgCenter and the University of Malaya in Malaysia to develop “climate-smart” rice has received a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service.
The award, part of the USDA FAS Scientific Cooperative Research Program, will assist scientists working to screen traditional rice varieties that can thrive in alternative water management strategies, which use less water than traditional rice-growing methods.
“The development of climate-smart rice varieties that are compatible with alternative water management systems is critical in the quest to feed an increasingly arid and hungry world, and it will sustainably benefit the global rice farmers,” the AgCenter and Malaysian research team wrote in a grant application.
Rice fields receive up to 43% of the world’s total irrigation water. In the United States, where irrigation resources remain plentiful, most rice is still grown in flooded fields. Pumping water for irrigation accounts for approximately 25% of rice production costs, according to an AgCenter study.
However, drought limits production in many countries where rice remains a staple food. From 2017 to 2021, approximately 22,239 acres of rice fields in Malaysia were damaged by drought conditions.
Through this research program, AgCenter and Malaysian scientists will work to understand the genetic architecture of traditional drought-tolerant rice varieties that can be grown in two alternative water management systems: semiaerobic rice and alternative wetting and drying.
Semiaerobic rice includes row rice, which is also known as furrow-irrigated rice, a technique that has recently gained traction in northeastern Louisiana. Instead of flooding fields to grow row rice, the producer using this growing system irrigates the furrows — the small trenches running through the field.
In alternative wetting and drying, rice farmers monitor water levels above and below the soil and irrigate when necessary.
Researchers are seeking to understand the genetic makeup of traditional Malaysian rice varieties that cope with drought and what genes are carried by these varieties to help develop drought-tolerant, high-yielding varieties that can fit the alternative irrigation regimes.
While American research facilities have identified several genes that can potentially improve rice yields under drought conditions, the genetic resources of Malaysian rice have not been closely studied, the researchers have found.
The LSU AgCenter is one of six university-affiliated research programs to receive assistance from the USDA Foreign Agriculture Service Scientific Cooperative Research Program (SCRP) to study “climate-smart agriculture” in tropical countries.
“This year’s SCRP is explicitly focused on helping agriculture adapt to, and mitigate its impacts on, our changing climate,” said Daniel Whitley, the Foreign Agricultural Service administrator. “We are pairing some of the United States’ top research institutions and scientists with their counterparts from countries where agriculture is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. We’re confident that they can collaborate on climate solutions that contribute to food security and agricultural sustainability, both locally and globally.”