In as much as the recent rains in California have caused anxieties among producers, researchers, on the other hand, are more upbeat about the situation. Breeders, most especially, often use these occasions to engage in experiments that could help in developing new varieties that can weather such changes in the climate in the future. Naturally, scientists often seek different sub optimum production environments that allow them to identify superior or inferior lines to develop lines that will provide more stable yields over years of production. These may include making special nurseries to test for cold tolerance, disease, salinity, drought or flooding, and other conditions possible in different regions or locations. They do this at a considerable expense of time, effort, and cost. When a bad year is encountered in a specific region (such as the late cold spring this year in California) or even in a particular nursery, they take advantage of the screening treatment that the weather provides and make a special effort to collect data such as seedling vigor, stand establishment, early growth, cold response, cold-induced sterility, and delay in maturity. This practice can help identify or confirm a superior or inferior variety, line, or production practice.
The poor conditions for growing rice are not good for producers and can jeopardize the yield potential in nursery tests. Nevertheless, breeders do take advantage of this opportunity for selection. Long-time Rice Experiment Station breeder Carl Johnson used to say, “If you get lemons, make lemonade.” He was always interested in how materials performed in a “rough environment,” which frequently refers to our nurseries in cold locations. This spring is going to test how some of our newer releases will perform, and we will measure their production stability under non-optimum spring conditions.
Dr. McKenzie is a plant breeder and director of the California Rice Experiment Station.