Planting California medium-grain rice

With a hot medium-grain rice seed market in the Mid-South — and the potential that California varieties are being considered to fill a supply gap — Mid-South growers are being warned of several dangers.

On March 5, the letter below was sent by Chuck Wilson, Arkansas Extension rice specialist, and Rick Cartwright, Arkansas Extension plant pathologist, to “all county (Extension) agents with rice responsibilities.” The letter reads:

“There is a shortage of medium grain rice seed this year.

“1. Some growers and dealers are searching for other seed sources, and some have contacted California and other states about importing seed of California medium-grain varieties to plant in Arkansas. The State Plant Board has a quarantine against importing seed from California because of bakanae disease. This is a seed-borne disease of rice common in Asia, and first noted in California in 1999, and is not known to be present in Arkansas or other Southern rice states at present. It is caused by a fungus that, once it becomes established in a new rice area, cannot be eliminated. The seed cannot be effectively disinfested either, so if seed is brought here from California, the disease will be introduced and we will have a new problem to deal with.

“Please advise your growers and seed dealers to not attempt to import rice seed from California into Arkansas, or California varieties from other states. This is because we are not sure if Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, etc., are preventing this risky seed movement at this time, although (the Arkansas) State Plant Board is advising them to be aware of the situation. So, contaminated seed could move in from other sources besides directly from California. The best idea is simply to make sure we do not bring in seed of California medium-grain varieties.

“2. California medium grain varieties are extremely susceptible to the races of the blast fungus present (in Arkansas). In the mid 1990s, before the bakanae issue, we had Arkansas growers that attempted to grow M204 from California. Although it was not a favorable year for blast in general, we plowed up most of these fields because they were burned down by the blast fungus.

“While we are used to seeing blast burn down dry spots and levees etc., these burned down in a 6-inch flood on heavy clay soils. (Cartwright) monitored one field in particular on a clay soil with deep water — which was the best advice we could give at the time to minimize blast — and pinhead-sized lesions on leaves one day were dead leaves seven days later. This field was destroyed despite three Benlate applications at the highest rates allowed.

“The bottom line is that the (California) varieties are not adapted (to the Mid-South) and by comparison, Francis looks like a highly resistant variety to blast when side-by-side. And, when you have this level of susceptibility, deep water, clay soils and Quadris will not save you.

“While it is true California rice breeders have been working on blast resistance, it is only to the race they have there and not to races of the fungus (in the Mid-South), so this resistance will not work here. Bottom line is the California medium-grains are too risky to grow here.

“3. The California medium grain varieties are patented. This means there are many rules that have to be followed when purchasing, planting, selling and record-keeping. Otherwise, you are subject to a lawsuit.

“4. All seed entering the state must have been tested for the Liberty Link trait and the results provided to the Plant Board. If not, your fields are subject to crop destruct and humongous fines.

“While we understand that the current demand and booking premiums for medium grains are an opportunity to make extra money, importation and planting of California medium grains will be of little or no benefit to our industry and will represent very high risk to it. It is simply not worth it.

“We are counting on you to get the word out to your growers, rice consultants, seedsmen, and others in our rice industry to help prevent this potential problem.”

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