Stories tagged rice

As Midwest flooding and rising demand for ethanol pushes the price of corn ever higher, Cornell researcher Norman Uphoff is developing a new way to grow rice. His method produces more grain to feed more people; uses less water; and releases less greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.


Brown plant hopper endangers world rice supply

World famine prevention: ID#6901
World famine prevention: ID#6901Courtesy CDC/ Dr. Lyle Conrad
Rice is a crop that feeds nearly half the world’s people. The International Rice Research Institute is the world’s main repository of rice seeds as well as genetic and other information about rice. In the 1980s, the institute employed five entomologists, or insect experts, overseeing a staff of 200. Now it has one entomologist with a staff of eight.

"A potential solution is at hand for the plant hopper problem. No fewer than 14 new types of genetic resistance have been discovered. But with the budget cuts, the institute has mounted no effort to breed these traits into widely used rice varieties.

Doing so now would take four to seven years, if money could be found. In the meantime, the hoppers have become a growing threat. China, the world’s biggest rice producer, announced on May 7 that it was struggling to control the rapid spread of the insects there. A plant hopper outbreak can destroy 20 percent of a harvest; China is trying to hold losses to 5 percent in affected fields."

Green Revolution stops starvation in 1960s

In the 1960s, population growth was far outrunning food production. With many poor countries threatened by famine, money was devoted to agricultural research. With new varieties of corn, wheat, and rice, along with better growing techniques, yields of food per acre soared in the 1970s and by the 1980s, the threat of starvation had receded in most of the world.

Famine again threatens world's poor

Since 1980, world support for agriculture in poor countries has dropped tremendously. Such projects include not only research on pests and crops but also programs to help farmers adopt improved methods in their fields.

  • Adjusted for inflation, the World Bank cut its agricultural lending to $2 billion in 2004 from $7.7 billion in 1980.
  • The United States cut its support for agriculture in poor countries to $624 million from $2.3 billion (1980-2006).

Another Green Revolution needed

Around 2004, as the world economy began growing more quickly. Millions of people were gaining the money to improve their diets, but the food supply was lagging.

"The world began to use more grain than it was producing, cutting into reserves, and prices started rising. Early this year, as stocks fell to perilous levels, international grain prices doubled or even tripled, threatening as many as 100 million people with malnutrition."

Crop endangering bugs and diseases are quickly becoming immune to insecticides and fungicides. Brown plant hoppers can withstand up to 100 times the dose that used to kill it. Wheat varieties resistant to wheat rust are victim to new varieties of the fungus (read my post on "wheat futures" here)

“We must stay ahead of rapidly evolving pests — and increasingly, a changing climate — to assure global food security,” said Mr. Zeigler, the rice institute’s director. “Cutting back on agricultural research today is pure folly.”

Source article: New York Times


It's time for the annual wild rice harvest.

The traditional harvesting technique requires one person to pole a canoe and one or two other people to gather grain. They beat the stalks with paddles, sweeping about half the rice into the boat. The rest of the grain falls to the bottom of the lake, where it sprouts the next spring.

But wild rice in Minnesota is threatened in many ways, and many lakes have produced a poor crop.

Wild rice, or Zizania palustris, is actually an aquatic grass. To grow, it needs shallow water and a mucky bottom. Drainage and damming of wetlands or lakes for farming or reservoirs have destroyed wild rice habitat. (Wild rice once grew throughout Minnesota and the eastern United States. In Minnesota alone, there are 70 Rice Lakes and 25 other lakes with "Rice" in their names, even though wild rice may no longer grow there.) And runoff of herbicides and nutrients from farm fields kills rice, too.

Fluctuating water levels are tough on the plants. When wild rice sprouts in the spring, a tiny root anchors the seed in place. When the stalk reaches the surface, long leaves form, floating on the surface of the water. If the water level rises, the weakly rooted stalk is pulled up and the plant dies. If the water level drops, the weak stalk collapses, killing the plant.

Carp often kill wild rice seedlings. They're bottom-feeders, digging up and disturbing young plants as the fish search for food. (These fish are not native.)

But there's another threat: for decades, the University of Minnesota has been researching wild rice, aiding in the development of 25,000 acres of machine-harvested, cultivated paddy rice in Minnesota. See, the seed head of the wild grain shatters easily. That allows the plant to seed itself, but makes it tough to farm commercially. Many fear it's just a matter of time until scientists genetically modify the wild rice genome, and contamination by genetically modified rice might decrease the economic and cultural value of the wild grain.

"We consider the wild rice to be a sacred gift from the Creator and it's always been here for us. Now, if the rice is altered genetically, it may be a strain that will take over the wild rice, and we will lose what was given to us by the Creator."
(Earl Hoagland, Ojibwe tribal elder)

(Not everyone agrees that the genetic research is a problem.)

Bills banning genetically modified wild rice in Minnesota (supported by White Earth Band members) didn't make it through the last legislative session, but will be reintroduced next year.

But here's the good news. At Lower Rice Lake on the White Earth Indian Reservation (north of Detroit Lakes), where lakefront development is prohibited and the White Earth Land Recovery Project manages the watershed, 200 people participate in the traditional harvest, gathering 11,000 to 15,000 pounds of rice a day, or 200,000 to 300,000 pounds each year. The rice is processed locally and sells for about $8.50 a pound. The grain itself feeds many White Earth families, and the proceeds from the rice harvest are a significant chunk of the annual income of many families.