From Lab to Field: LSU’s Ambitious Project to Create Climate-Resilient Rice Variety

LSU Mechanical Engineering Professor Manas Gartia, and the LSU AgCenter have recently been awarded a significant $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture sector. According to this news release from Louisiana State University’s College of Engineering, this grant will be used to fund their collaborative effort in designing a new variety of rice that can thrive in drought conditions. The need for such a development arises from the fact that rice is a crucial staple food for more than half of the global population, and as rice production continues to increase, so does the demand for water.

Rice cultivation, particularly the conventional season-long flood irrigation method, contributes to several environmental issues, including the depletion of underground water tables, increased salinity in groundwater, air and water pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. Professor Gartia emphasized that despite a 39% increase in land-use efficiency and reductions in water and energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and soil losses in U.S. rice production over the past four decades, there is still a need for more resource-efficient practices.

To address these concerns, the research team led by Professor Prasanta Subudhi from LSU’s AgCenter School of Plant, Environmental, and Soil Sciences will focus on two main hypotheses. The first hypothesis suggests that developing new rice varieties with better adaptation to climate variations, coupled with innovative crop management practices, can enhance the sustainability and profitability of rice production systems. The second hypothesis states that implementing educational and outreach extension programs will facilitate the adoption of a climate-resilient rice management system by current and future generations of rice growers in the Southern U.S.

Professor Gartia’s role in the project involves studying the phenotype and molecular changes in rice under various stresses, such as salt, drought, water, and heat. By identifying the genes responsible for the rice plant’s survival under drought conditions, the team aims to create a variety of rice with those specific traits. This will enable rice cultivation even in arid regions, reducing the reliance on water resources.

Gartia plans to utilize innovative metabolomic (NMR, LC-MS) and imaging (Raman microscopy) technologies to examine the leaf metabolic profiling in stress-tolerant plants. His objective is to establish a correlation between metabolite levels and stress tolerance in different rice genotypes under various stress conditions. By observing dynamic fluctuations in metabolite levels in real-time using Raman mapping, Gartia hopes to gain valuable insights into the stress response of rice plants.

Additionally, the team will employ techniques such as mass spectrometry imaging (MALDI) and mass spectrometry coupled with liquid chromatography (LC-MS) to analyze lipidomic profile changes in the leaves due to environmental stressors. These comprehensive methods will aid in characterizing the metabolomic profiles of rice lines exposed to drought and salinity stresses.

The outcome of this project will have significant implications for the rice industry, which is one of the largest sectors in both the United States and Louisiana. In 2022 alone, the U.S. produced over 150 million pounds of rice, solidifying its position as the world’s fifth-largest rice exporter. Louisiana, with its favorable warm climate, abundant water, and water-retaining clay soils, stands as the nation’s third-largest rice-producing state, trailing behind Arkansas and California.

This collaborative effort between LSU Mechanical Engineering Professor Manas Gartia and the LSU AgCenter has the potential to revolutionize rice production by creating a drought-resistant rice variety. By reducing the reliance on water resources and promoting more sustainable practices, this research aims to ensure a stable supply of rice for the ever-growing global population. In conclusion, the $10 million grant received by Professor Gartia and the LSU AgCenter will facilitate groundbreaking research in designing a new variety of rice that can withstand drought conditions. By combining innovative technologies and focusing on sustainability, this project has the potential to transform the rice industry, ensuring its resilience in the face of climate variability and environmental challenges.

For more education-related information, click here.

Nice Price For Louisiana Rice

News out of Crowley, LouisianaRice capital of the world – reports that the prices of rice are on the rebound, and things are looking up for the 2020 crop out of Louisiana.

Michael Deliberto, LSU AgCenter economist, relayed that there are several reasons why the current economic outlook for rice is positive. “There is no doubt that supplies are tight and demand has been good. These are the highest U.S. prices in at least seven years,” he said.

AgCenter rice specialist Dustin Harrell agreed, stating, ““This year’s rice crop has had a tremendous start.”

Rice planted early this season saw the benefits of a warm March, as the area experienced temperatures that averaged around 10 degrees higher than most years. Even with a few cold snaps in April, and a few outbreaks of “chinch bugs”, rice has bounced back and avoided major challenges, according to Harrell.  “It’s one of the best starts I’ve seen in a long time,” he said.

Although heavy rainfall has interfered with planting in north Louisiana and Arkansas, July rice is anticipated at selling for roughly $23 a barrel, and September rice was priced north of $19 a barrel.  A barrel is roughly 162 pounds.

U.S. long-grain milled rice prices are currently being propped up by continued bulk sales to Haiti, as well as by expectations of much tighter U.S. supplies later in the market year and higher global trading prices.

Total rice acreage could affect pricing. An acreage shift in Arkansas, the largest rice-producing state, could see lower prices as some acreage used for soybeans may be used for rice. Over the last year, rice planting has increased, with Arkansas handling 78% of the projected 307,000-acre total U.S. rice acreage.  This year’s estimates project Arkansas will have almost 1.4 million acres in rice, 21% higher than in 2019.

Louisiana rice growers revealed in March they would expand total rice plantings more than 1% to around 430,000 acres, with long-grain varieties accounting for all the 2020 expansion.

Some export restrictions recently announced by Southeast Asian countries and the effect of lockdown policies in numerous countries amid the COVID-19 pandemic have strained the global rice market. “Most notable among the rice export bans is Vietnam, the third-largest global exporter since 2013,” Deliberto said.  He reported Vietnam trade officials are starting to relax restrictions, though

The good news is that overall exports from the United States are up. In fact, through February 2020, U.S. exports of long-grain rice totaled 41.5 million hundredweight, which is up 11.5% from 2019. U.S. shipments are well ahead of 2019 to various countries, including Colombia, Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Latin America is projected to remain the top market for U.S. long-grain rice.

In a related article, Harrell relayed that while the coronavirus outbreak has shuttered schools, but he believes this has presented an opportunity for young people to be involved in planting rice, which he has witnessed himself.  The AgCenter’s mission of ensuring farmers are “in the know” is pushing forward despite the effects the current health crisis is having on daily operations.  “We have means of communication that we can use,” he said. “We can use text messages; pictures sent through text messages. I can answer questions electronically. We can do a lot of diagnostic work virtually now.”

Bottom line – the rice industry is as strong as ever, with leaders like Harrell and Deliberto at the helm.

For more Louisiana related articles, click here.