Canada clears herbicide-resistant rice for distribution

A revolutionary line of rice should be in production this year now that it has cleared a final hurdle — approval by the Canadian government.

The Clearfield rice lines were developed from herbicide-resistant rice discovered by Tim Croughan at the LSU AgCenter's Rice Research Station at Crowley, La. They are revolutionary because of their tolerance of imidazolinone herbicides, which makes it possible to control the nuisance weed known as “red rice” without harming the rice crop.

“The most overriding issue with Clearfield is the ability to selectively control red rice,” said Steve Linscombe, a former rice breeder for the LSU AgCenter who now serves as a regional director for the AgCenter.

The lines originally were licensed to American Cyanamid for further development and testing and later were transferred to BASF.

BASF intends to market the Clearfield Production System for rice that will be comprised of Clearfield rice lines and Newpath herbicide.

BASF officials announced Feb. 5 that they had received verbal approval from two agencies of the Canadian government to market the rice for “food and feed use.”

“Canada is a critical market for U.S. rice, and we are pleased that the agencies have responded positively to Clearfield rice,” Matthew C. Plitt, BASF's rice market manager, said in a release. “With all Canadian regulatory approval now in place, BASF will move forward with the launch of the Clearfield Production System for rice in the 2002 growing season.”

The Canadian approval involved two of three Clearfield rice lines. A third Clearfield rice, which also was discovered by Croughan at the LSU AgCenter's Rice Station, entered the approval process later and is still being reviewed.

LSU AgCenter faculty members say the Clearfield lines can be an important component in rice production.

“Yields with these lines will not be quite as good as our highest-yielding varieties such as Cocodrie,” Linscombe said, explaining that popular variety also was developed at the LSU AgCenter's Rice Station. “But we feel the technology that allows control of red rice is enough to offset some yield disadvantage.”

Officials also say these new rice varieties can offer other benefits.

“I think there also will be some environmental benefits in addition to the control of red rice, because it will reduce the need for rice farmers to work their fields in water,” said Bill Brown, vice chancellor of the LSU AgCenter. “That's particularly true in south Louisiana, where the practice of mudding-in had to be used to help control red rice.”

Those practices of tilling the soil while a rice field was flooded resulted in issues of soil loss as well as additional contaminants — in the form of soil particles — being part of the runoff water when the fields were drained.

While the ability to control the nuisance red rice without harming the rice crop is the revolutionary part of the new Clearfield lines, scientists say some aspects of this production system have been around for a long time.

“The herbicide involved here has been around and used on food crops for a long time,” said LSU AgCenter rice specialist Johnny Saichuk, explaining it has been marketed under a separate label for soybeans. “Now it will be called Newpath for rice.”

Linscombe also points out the rice lines were developed through conventional breeding techniques.

“These are not genetically modified,” Linscombe said. “A lot of people assume that because of the herbicide resistance they are GMOs (genetically modified organisms), but that's not the case.”

Officials say the new rice lines could begin appearing in Louisiana fields when this year's planting season begins this spring.

Rice production is a major commodity for Louisiana, which contributed $199 million to the Louisiana economy in 2000 and more than $297 million in 1999. Final economic figures are being compiled on the 2001 crop, which was grown on about 550,000 acres in Louisiana.

Tom Merrill writes for the LSU AgCenter.

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