While some rice varieties are still considered workhorses by the industry, others on the experimental track are coming on fast.

Farman Jodari, plant breeder with California’s Rice Experiment Station (RES) in Biggs, Calif., updated growers and others on his progress with long grain varieties and gave an overview of Jacob Lage’s work on medium grain varieties. In the past two years, two new long grain varieties have been introduced – L-206 and Calmati-202.

“L-206 is a conventional long grain with similar cooking characteristics to the southern long grain,” he says. “It’s an early to early maturing variety, short stature – about 5 inches shorter than M-202. Seedling vigor is average to slightly lower than M-202. In the past eight years of statewide trials the yield in the warm and cool locations has been 91,000 pounds, which is very similar to M-202. It is adaptable to most of the rice growing regions in California, except the coldest locations of Yolo and San Joaquin counties and the warmest locations of Glenn County.”

Calmati-202 is a true basmati type released in February 2006. The variety features improved quality characteristics such as slender kernels, higher cooked kernel elongation ratio and a flakier grain texture. “These three traits are essential for any basmati type rice,” Jodari says.

Two experimental long grain varieties are promising, according to Jodari. One – 0-Y-513 - is a new, early, conventional long grain. “It has better cooking quality than even L-206,” Jordari says. “It has shown very good milling qualities. In 2007, it showed very good adaptability to cooler climates.”

The cooler-than-normal 2007 and 2008 seasons have been helpful for researchers to screen varieties for cool tolerance, according to Jodari.

The other experimental long grain – 07-Y-152 – is a step closer to the imported basmati. “When it’s cooked, it’s almost indistinguishable from an imported basmati,” Jodari says.

It appears to be limited to the warmer rice growing areas of California. Breeding efforts will continue with the goal of improving yield and milling qualities on the experimental varieties, while retaining desirable basmati characteristics.

“In recent years we have expanded the genetic diversity of the long grain breeding material,” he says. “This was done mainly with the idea of introducing better cooking qualities to the high yielding adaptive lines. Now we are shifting our focus toward milling quality.”

Another shift in focus for the long grain program has been an expansion in specialty rice breeding. About 50 percent of the long grain program’s effort has been channeled into developing specialty varieties. Most of that effort has been targeted toward the development of jasmine types that has been driven by market demand, according to Jodari. To a limited extent, other breeding efforts are being conducted on specialty varieties such as conventional long grain aromatic types that can be grown successfully in California.

“We’re very excited about the new basmati types that are coming along in the nursery,” Jodari says. “This year in the statewide trials we have four basmati, four jasmine and two conventional selections that we are testing.”

Lage, plant breeder at the station for medium grains, was not able to present, but Jodari filled in for his medium grain report. Yield optimization continues to be the focus of the medium grain program.

“M-104 is the only very early medium grain in production in the state,” Jodari says. “Jacob’s comments are that is has very good blanking tolerance and a high level of lodging. Although it is targeted for the southern part of the (Sacramento) Valley, it can be produced in the northern part of the Valley to spread out the harvest.”

“M-202, while a very stable and well-known variety, has been surpassed in yield by two other medium grain varieties – M-205 and M-206 – by about 15 percent,” Jodari reported. “The latter two varieties also have better synchrony in heading and have better milling uniformity. Growers who are still growing M-202 could probably benefit by experimenting with M-205 and M-206.”

M-208 is not as high yielding as other medium grain varieties, but it is more resistant to rice blast and is potentially a good fit in blast hot spots.

There are two experimental lines that Lage is excited about, according to Jodari. The first is 05-Y471 which has been yielding about 4 percent more than one of its parents – M-104. The other – 05-Y724 is an early experimental line that includes M-206 as one of its parents. That experimental variety has yielded an average of 2 percent more than M-206 in the statewide test and showed good milling characteristics compared to M-206 as well as tolerance to blanking.

Laga’s primary emphasis is on improving yield of medium grains. He’s also conducting trials with drill seeding and water seeding and continuing work on Chinese integration lines to acquire new sources of germplasm for the medium grain line.

“Milling quality will be a top priority to be able to harvest at lower moisture content at around 17 percent to 18 percent without sacrificing milling yield,” Jodari says. “Jacob is focusing on that in an effort to conserve energy in the milling process.”

In the short grains and premium quality rice-breeding project, RES Plant Breeder Virgilio Andaya says the focus for his research has shifted to premium quality and specialty rice. “We’ve been modifying our priorities because the medium grains have been occupying most of our priorities in California,” he says. “We’re looking at premium quality short grains in this program. Two-thirds of the materials here are premium quality grains.”

A premium quality is hard to define, according to Andaya. “It cooks glossy. It’s lightly sticky with a smooth texture. It’s not starchy. It cooks tender with a subtle aroma, and it’s a little bit sweet.”

The challenges are daunting. “It’s much more difficult to breed because you’re trying to incorporate all those production factors in with cooking and taste factors,” he says. “In this project we have around 10,000 genotypes for screening and three experimentals that we’re looking at closely.”

The DNA marker capabilities at the station are helping breeders fast forward the process.