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 Home>News Archive>2014>February>Headline News>

Two AgCenter rice scientists honored at national meeting

News Release Distributed 02/24/14

NEW ORLEANS, La. – Two LSU AgCenter scientists were honored at the 2014 Rice Technical Working Group’s 35th meeting held Feb. 18-21.

Johnny Saichuk, LSU AgCenter rice specialist, received the Distinguished Rice Research and Education Award, and Mike Stout was one of seven entomologists from rice-growing states to be recognized with the Distinguished Rice Research and Education Team Award.

Saichuk works with rice farmers across the state, and he oversees the LSU AgCenter’s rice verification program.

Saichuk credited his wife for her support, and his grandfather for giving him his love of agriculture. He also recognized LSU AgCenter county agents working with rice. “These guys are the best to work with.”

The team award was made to the entomologists for their work on seed treatments for controlling the rice water weevil and other insects. Stout thanked fellow team member Mo Way, Texas A&M entomologist. “He has been the mentor for me and many of us. He’s the patriarch.”

More than 400 rice experts from across the United States, and some from overseas, attended the conference. The RTWG meets every other year in a rice-growing state for scientists to exchange the results of their research and to announce new findings. The 2016 event will be in Galveston, Texas.

Steve Linscombe, director of the Rice Research Station and one of the organizers of the 2014 RTWG, said the event was a success. “This RTWG was one of the most well-attended in recent years with more than 400 registered participants. The successful meeting was the result of dedication and hard work over a two-year period by numerous faculty and staff within the AgCenter with rice responsibilities.”

Among the guest speakers was Mike Strain, commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry. He told the group that agriculture faces more regulatory challenges with the anticipated goal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce agricultural runoff water by 40 percent in the next 20 years.

One of the big issues discussed at the RTWG meeting was rice grain quality.

Jim Oard, LSU AgCenter hybrid breeder, told the gathering that the undesirable quality problem of chalk can be caused by high night temperatures and high humidity, but some varieties are inherently predisposed to chalky grain.

He said a task force on the issue tested 20 varieties and hybrids, and determined that genetics are twice as much of a factor in chalk development than growing location. Oard said LSU AgCenter’s breeding work emphasizes quality.

Bobby Hanks, chief executive officer of Louisiana Rice Mill of Crowley, addressed the group on grain quality. He said the quality of American-grown rice declined in 2010, and overseas customers started buying rice from other rice-growing areas including Asia and South America. “We have lost some customers around the world entirely.”

He said the Iraqi market has had some of the toughest standards, but American rice from the 2013 growing year produced high quality rice acceptable to the Iraqis.

He said a quality task force set up by the USA Rice Federation has been studying the issue, and improvements have been made. But he stressed that with just one year of high quality rice, the task force’s work is not over. “I do not think our problems are solved. I do think it’s possible we could have another 2010.”

Chalky rice is the major quality problem, and that characteristic varies among varieties, he said.

Also, grain cracking detracts from quality, and it’s possible that the grains develop that problem in the drying and storage process on farms, Hanks said. He suggested that researchers could help educate farmers on fine-tuning their drying and storage methods.

Hanks said Louisiana Rice Mill contracts with farmers to plant rice varieties desired by its customers, and at least half of the varieties bought by the company are kept separate instead of co-mingling. Louisiana Rice Mill has been paying a premium for higher quality varieties since 2010, he said.

He said the increased number of varieties also has become a problem because the milling machines cannot adjust for the variances in grain shapes with each variety.

Hanks implored the rice industry to end its infighting and work in unison on the numerous problems facing the industry.

“We need to support a strong checkoff program,” he said. “Without that, we are going to continue to see U.S. rice diminish.”

Also at the meeting, Don Groth, LSU AgCenter plant pathologist, announced that he learned Feb. 18 that the fungicide Sercadis has been given a full label by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to treat fungicide-resistant sheath blight disease.

Groth said the strain of disease resistant to fungicide developed after rice and soybean farmers began using more fungicides 40 years ago.

Dustin Harrell, LSU AgCenter agronomist, talked about a multi-state research project aimed at determining if different flooding methods can influence the amount of arsenic absorbed by rice plants from the soil. Regardless of the flooding methods, he said, “U.S. rice is one of the safest in the world.”

Linscombe traced the evolution of rice in Louisiana. He said rice farming expanded beyond a subsistence enterprise in the 1880s with the completion of a railroad from New Orleans to Houston and the migration of Midwestern farmers to Louisiana who brought mechanical farm equipment previously used for wheat. By 1900, he said, the state had 60 rice mills and 80 irrigation pumping plants.

Mike Salassi, LSU AgCenter economist, said the new farm bill has price protection measures that will benefit rice farmers if rice drops below $14 per hundredweight, although direct payments have been eliminated and a $125,000 per person cap has been placed on benefits. “The final version is certainly better for rice than what could have been.”

Stout gave an overview of insecticide seed treatments. He said the materials are being used on seed with the aim of preventing a rice water weevil problem. The seed treatments also have the benefit of controlling other pests such as aphids and stem borers, he said.

But Stout warned that rice water weevils could develop resistance to the chemicals.

Joan King, LSU AgCenter food scientist, talked about her work to develop resistant starch in rice, and Ida Wenefrida gave a talk on her work to develop lines of rice with increased protein levels.

Eric Webster, LSU AgCenter weed scientist, talked about weed control in Louisiana rice fields.

He said the chemical Sharpen is expected to be labeled for use in rice fields this year. Previously, it has been limited to controlling weeds before planting.

Webster said the new rice variety with resistance to the BASF chemical Provisia will offer rice farmers another weed-control option. He said much of the herbicide-resistant red rice can be traced to repeated years of using Clearfield rice without rotation.

John Harden of BASF said stewardship principles, including rotation, have kept Clearfield viable but out-crossing was inevitable. “We’ve got the tool now to bring some of the out-crossing under control.”

He said the Provisia system, like Clearfield, uses a non-GMO rice developed with conventional breeding techniques. He said the Provisia technology can be used in rotation with the Clearfield system.

Provisia will control red rice and volunteer rice, he said, with a different mode of action than the Newpath herbicide used in Clearfield.

Harden said the best time frame for Provisia’s availability he can offer is “in the last half of this decade.” He said work continues to determine the application timing, but early season treatment is likely.

Linscombe said the LSU AgCenter has had a key role in development of the Provisia system.

“The Rice Research Station is actively involved in breeding new pure line and hybrid rice varieties with the Provisia trait,” he said. “If successful, the first commercially available rice lines with the new system will come from this program.”

In a committee meeting to discuss the potential U.S. rice acreage for 2014, Saichuk said the new farm bill favors rice, and he estimated Louisiana would have a slight increase, by 10,000-20,000 acres, from last year’s total of 412,000 acres. He said farmers in north Louisiana will probably plant more rice because of decreasing prices for corn and soybeans.

Saichuk said with the quality issues, many farmers will be required to separate their varieties in their bins. He said the demand for conventional varieties remains high. “I’ve been told there is no more Catahoula seed.”

Arkansas rice acreage is likely to increase, according to Chuck Wilson of the University of Arkansas. The state had roughly 1 million acres last year, the lowest in 20 years.

He said 1.5 million acres could be planted. “Some have said 1.8 million.”

Demand for medium-grain varieties is high, he said, and seed for Jupiter and Roy J are no longer available.

Mississippi and Missouri representatives said they don’t expect much acreage increase in their states, while California and Texas projections are uncertain because of drought.

Bruce Schultz

Last Updated: 2/24/2014 5:35:26 PM

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