For Release December 3, 2006
Are We Really Going to Grow Rice in Kansas?
by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent
Ever since the announcement by Ventria Bioscience in late September of their plans to grow and process biotech rice locally, it has been the hot topic of many discussions. I have been averaging a couple of questions a week about rice from farmers and the general public both. Following another meeting this past week, which went into more of the production details, the number of questions has jumped, again, so let's briefly address some of those questions.
Yes, we can grow rice in Kansas. Like many crops there are varieties with different length maturities. The rice that they are planning to start growing next spring are 120 day varieties. This would make them fairly similar to our full season corn hybrids. Rice can be started in a greenhouse and transplanted by hand or machine. This is high labor but produces higher yields. It is usually seeded by drill, just like wheat, or flown on with an airplane into standing water. Rice will probably do best when it is planted in late April or early May.
While most of us are familiar with rice being grown in standing water, paddy or lowland rice, rice can also be grown under sprinkler irrigation and even dryland conditions. When rice is not grown in paddies it is usually called upland rice. While the first rice that will be grown here will probably be in paddies, I suspect that most of the production will move to a more upland style of production over time.
Rice is quite different from other cereal grains in that it can grow in standing water. The plant has the ability to move oxygen from the leaves to the roots, thus preventing them from drowning resulting in death of the plant. Rice seed can sprout under water or under the soil surface, but not both. One of the reasons for growing rice under flooded conditions, is to provide weed control and reduce other pest problems. Rice does have insect and disease problems, but because the nearest current rice production is 400 miles away, we would not expect the common rice insect and disease pests to be a problem for quite some time.
To me, one of the most interesting aspects of this is that while we grow most of our grain crops for the raw commodity, to be used in human or animal food, the rice is being grown for a protein that it contains. Very specific proteins are added to the rice's genetics. The rice is grown and then processed to extract the those functional proteins. These proteins are then mixed with various foods or liquids and fed to infants and young children who are dehydrated due to diarrhea. Essentially, the grain is grown as a carrier for a protein that will be used in a pharmaceutical application.
While this is new to many of us, it is a growing industry that goes by PMP or plant made pharmaceuticals. These activities are very closely regulated by the government with very strict production, transport and processing regulations in place. You can read that to mean, lots of paperwork! This is a young industry that is growing rapidly. Areas that are involved in this new crop production are on the cutting edge of the future.
For many of us, this will be learning a whole new system of crop production. It's a different crop being grown in a different manner and for a different purpose than anything else we've ever done before. It's an exciting prospect and could easily be the first of several similar applications that we can participate in. I'll keep you all posted on the progress, and be on the lookout for some new crops in our Geary County fields next spring!
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