Students in the Gifted and Talented program in the Hope, Arkansas Public Schools are writing a children’s book about “life as a grain of rice.” What better way to learn about growing, harvesting, and milling rice than to visit the Arkansas Grand Prairie where rice production is a way of life. On April 22nd, 2009, Ms. Carla Bryant escorted forty-five 5th & 6th graders to Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center in Stuttgart, Arkansas. The students were able to obtain first-hand knowledge about growing and milling rice and also learned about ongoing rice research at the Center.
The informative program began with Dr. Karen Moldenhauer, rice breeder with the University of Arkansas Rice Research and Extension Center, providing an overview of the importance of rice to the economy of Arkansas. She passed around panicles of rice as she discussed rice growth and development.
Next on the program was Dr. Rolfe Bryant, an ARS Research Chemist, who used a camera and stereo microscope to project rice grains on the big screen. The Hope students were able to see in detail the differences in short, medium and long grain market classes of rice, weedy red rice; and also the difference between paddy, brown rice, and milled rice.
ARS technician with the breeding program, Tony Beaty then recruited three students from the audience to learn hands-on about milling rice. The students wore lab coats and goggles to assist Mr. Beaty with the milling process, which included removing the hulls from the paddy rice, milling the rice to remove the bran layer, and separating the broken rice kernels from the whole milled grains.
ARS technician with the pathology project Michael Lin ended the program with a description of two important diseases that impact rice, rice blast and sheath blight. Mr. Lin showed magnified pictures of blast fungus spores as well as blast lesions on the rice plant itself. He further explained to the Hope students how research on the genes which control resistance to these diseases will benefit rice breeders worldwide.
Dr. Moldenhauer then escorted the group on a field tour where they saw actual rice fields and obtained a better sense of rice production on the Grand Prairie. The students were provided packages of rough rice to take home so that they could plant rice in their own backyards.
The visit to Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center provided the Hope students with enough information to complete their writing project. They learned firsthand about rice production and the importance of research in solving problems and they will probably never look at a grain of rice in quite the same light again.