New University of Arkansas greenhouse will aid nighttime temperature studies

new university of arkansas greenhouse
Inside the new research greenhouse at the University of Arkansas Rice Research and Extension Center near Stuttgart — photo by Ehsan Shakiba

A research greenhouse formally opened Aug. 2 further aids University of Arkansas efforts to stem yield loss after milling due to high nighttime temperatures.

Jay Coker, chairman of the Rice Research and Promotion Board, says the need for an advanced facility to help develop resilient rice varieties became apparent after Arkansas rice producers lost yield after milling due to high nighttime temperatures in 2016.

“The greenhouse and growth chambers projects are both an immediate and direct response to the impact of high nighttime temperatures that negatively impacted rice growers in 2016,” Coker says. “This investment of research funds will allow researchers to overcome these issues and bring higher yielding and better quality rice varieties in an expedited manner into the hands of the Arkansas rice grower.”

The Rice Research and Promotion Board fully funded the $1.88 million cost for the research greenhouse and growth chambers.

Eshan Shakiba, a rice breeder for the University of Arkansas, says the growth chambers and rest of the greenhouse are digitally controlled, enabling researchers to precisely create whatever environment is needed for research. Researchers can control temperature, light intensity, humidity, carbon dioxide levels, length of day and other factors as needed for variety testing, as well as being alerted should something go awry. A reverse osmosis system ensures pure water for plant growth.

These new programs also keep data readily available for researchers.

“These facilities are unique in our region in that they are controlled by a computer. It has a sophisticated system for moisture, light and heat control,” Shakiba says. “If something happens it can notify us via Bluetooth. Also, it is all connected to the internet, so we can take data from the computer and put that information on a flash drive if needed.”

The 40-by-80-foot greenhouse will be used to breed hybrid and conventional rice tolerant to high nighttime temperatures. The greenhouse also will be used primarily for hybrid rice breeding activities. The 10-by 20-foot growth chambers will be used for screening hybrid and conventional rice lines for tolerance to high nighttime temperatures.

Along with advanced technology, the growth chambers also offer researchers the space they need to test the 72 different cultivars in the high nighttime temperatures study.

“Most growth chambers are small, like closets,” Shakiba says. “But we needed something to test multiple cultivars simultaneously in different conditions.”

Jean-Francois Meullenet, associate vice president for agriculture research, says the new facilities are in good hands with the rice breeders at the Rice Research and Extension Center.

“The Arkansas Rice Research and Promotion Board have been very supportive of our research, and it’s comforting to know that their dollars are being put to good use,” Meullenet says. “This research will, in time, have a great impact on our rice growers.”

The project has been a group effort among Division of Agriculture rice breeders, University of Arkansas scientists and administrators, architects and the Rice Promotion Board. Shakiba says seeing all of their hard work come to fruition has been greatly satisfying.

“We traveled and spoke with people across the state and in other states to ask questions about their greenhouses. We asked about what worked and what didn’t,” he says. “We worked very hard on this and we are very proud of it.”

The University of Arkansas contributed this article.

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