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Rice Researchers Will Aim Even Higher at New Research Center / October 22, 1998 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Rice Researchers Will Aim Even Higher at New Research Center

By Ben Hardin
October 22, 1998

U.S. rice yields have nearly tripled in the past half century, thanks to research—and to farmers’ skill in applying it in regions well suited for rice. U.S. rice yields now average nearly 6,000 pounds per acre, among the world’s highest.

What would be a plausible encore by scientists during the next quarter century? If their breeding strategy succeeds, yields might rise as much as 23 percent, while grain quality is kept high.

The scientists, at the Agricultural Research Service, are based at the agency’s new Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center in Stuttgart, Ark. The center is scheduled to be dedicated in ceremonies today. ARS is the chief scientific arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The ARS researchers are working to develop rice breeding lines and improved germplasm with the combined strengths of two rice subspecies, indica and japonica.

For thousands of years, tropical farmers have grown indica and selected high-yielding strains resistant to insects and disease. Japonicas, known for high grain quality, have traditionally been grown in other areas, where insect and disease problems are less severe. These areas, in the U.S. and elsewhere, are generally at more than 30 degrees north or south latitude.

But in preliminary experiments at Stuttgart, indica strains have outyielded japonicas by 23 percent and generally matured 11 days earlier. The long-term challenge: Breed into indica rice the superior grain qualities of the japonicas—without sacrificing yield.

Kernels of high-quality rice, rich in amylose starch, are less prone to stick together after cooking.

Stuttgart researchers recently acquired indica strains from the International Rice Research Institute at Los Banos in the Philippines. These strains have amylose content approaching that of southern U.S. tropical japonicas. At the new center, better equipped for basic and applied research, the scientists are pursuing ideas for enhancing these indica strains so they will excel in both yield and quality.

Scientific contact: J. Neil Rutger, ARS Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center, Stuttgart, Ark., phone (870) 672-9300, ext. 223, fax (870) 673-7581.

* For more information about the new center, contact Ben Hardin, ARS Information Staff, phone (309) 681-6597, bhardin@asrr.arsusda.gov.

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