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Rice Researchers Share Common Goals

By Ben Hardin
August 28, 1998

Rice grown at home and abroad is becoming more popular with U.S. consumers. And U.S. farmers, who now plant rice on 3 million acres annually, could expand their acreage when economic demands increase further.

In keeping with rice becoming more at home in the United States, Agricultural Research Service scientists at the National Rice Germplasm Evaluation and Enhancement Center, Stuttgart, Ark., plan to step up their research in a new 46,000-square-foot facility. ARS is the principal scientific agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

On Aug. 30 through Sept. 2, just as preparation of the new facility is completed, the scientists will host the International Symposium on Rice Germplasm Evaluation and Enhancement. The object: share knowledge on improving rice breeding resources for developing new varieties of high-yielding, high-quality grain in various geographic settings, some of which may be beset by plant diseases and insects.

More than 90 percent of U.S. rice acreage is now planted with varieties developed by state and federal breeders. ARS geneticists play a vital role in filling the pipeline of ever- improved germplasm from which varieties can be formed, according to J. Neil Rutger, director of the Stuttgart center. New rice germplasm is being enhanced at the center via biotechnology as well as conventional means.

In the U.S., rice production recently has remained steady while per capita annual consumption of the milled product has risen to more than 20 pounds--about double that of the mid-1980s. About 11 percent of rice consumed in the U.S. is imported. Most imported rice is flavorful, high-quality aromatic rice preferred by many immigrants from Asian countries. High-quality rice, rich in amylose starch, is the norm in certain areas of the U.S. well-suited for rice production. This rice grows best in a temperate climate where insect and disease epidemics are normally least severe.

Arkansas is the leading rice-producing state, followed by California, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Missouri.

Scientific contact: J. Neil Rutger, USDA-ARS, National Rice Germplasm Evaluation and Enhancement Center, Stuttgart, Ark., phone (870) 673-2661, fax (870) 673-7581, email

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