Scientists create perennial rice technology

Perennial rice Photo courtesy of the research group

Perennial rice experimental demonstration and application Photo courtesy of the research group

Recently, Professor Hu Fengyi of Yunnan University and relevant teams inside and outside the United Nations published a paper entitled “Sustainable Productivity and Production Potential of Perennial Rice” in Nature Sustainability, and simultaneously published a research brief entitled “Perennial Rice Transformation for Sustainable Agriculture”, which reported in detail that the team has insisted on and explored the cultivation, innovation and application of perennial rice for more than 20 years.

After nearly 10,000 years of artificial selection, humans have domesticated food crops from their perennial wild relatives to annual cultivated species. However, the production mode of annual food crops has socio-economic and ecological environment problems such as large seed input, intensified soil erosion, increased input of agricultural machinery and tools, and soil nutrient loss. In order to solve the problem of balancing food security and ecological security faced by the growing population, Hu Fengyi’s team has been committed to studying the perennial chemistry of rice since 1996 and has successfully created perennial rice technology.

At present, Hu Fengyi’s team has successfully bred a number of perennial rice varieties, including perennial rice 23, Yun Da 25, Yun University 107, etc., which have been successfully tested and promoted in China and other surrounding countries. Among them, perennial rice 23 (PR23) passed the variety approval in 2018, which has the characteristics of wide adaptability, high yield and stable yield, and strong perenniality, which is a milestone event in the field of cultivating perennial food crops based on interspecific hybridization. Perennial rice planting once, can be continuously no-tillage harvest for 3-4 years, that is, from the second season there is no need to buy seeds, seedlings, plough and transplant and other production links, only field management and harvesting two production links, saving production costs, reducing labor, is a light simplified, green and sustainable rice production method.

Perennial rice has been cultivated continuously for 4 years, harvested twice a year, with an average yield of 6.8 tonnes/ha, which is comparable to that of annual rice (6.7 tonnes/ha). In 2020, more than 3,818 hectares of perennial rice were planted, benefiting more than 11,000 farming households. In 2021, its planted area (15,533 hectares) increased fourfold, benefiting 44,752 farming households.

Since the second season of perennial rice, 68-77 labor inputs per hectare have been saved per season, and 46.8% to 51% of production inputs have been saved, which has greatly improved the economic efficiency of farmers. At the same time, the no-tillage production method also improves the soil structure of the paddy field and effectively cultivates the soil of the cultivated layer. According to preliminary predictions, perennial rice has a wide range of application potential in frost-free rice areas between 40 degrees north and south latitudes.

William Burnside, senior editor of Nature Sustainability, said the study demonstrates in terms of breeding, agronomic trait evaluation, potential impacts, farm labour and income, and possible range of cultivation that turning the world’s oldest and most important domesticated grains into a perennial paradigm is a major change.

Jerry Glover, senior advisor to USAID in sustainable agriculture research and a scientist at the National Geographic Society, commented: “This is one of the most important research results of modern agriculture. I believe that based on this research, through more scientists’ exploration of the perenniality of major food crops, epoch-making new discoveries will be made. For the nearly 10,000 years of global food production relying on annual grains, this research provides an important new way for global food production. (Source: China Science News, Wen Caifei)

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