It was yin and yang: the 2006 rice cropping season began with high hopes and good planting weather and ended with a simmering GMO controversy. At the Arkansas Seed Growers meeting in Brinkley, Ark., Chuck Wilson provided an overview of last growing season and then focused on what’s being done to remove a LibertyLink trait from the rice supply.

2006 in review

Shortly after planting, “it turned off a little cool and wet, and rice struggled in some areas,” said the Arkansas Extension rice specialist. “That made soil herbicides pretty active. I probably looked at more Command injury than I’ve seen in a long time.” Wilson also saw Newpath injury along with “some bad” glyphosate drift.

“I was beginning to think I needed to be an entomologist with all the insect problems last year. That’s a reflection of the fact we no longer have Icon to protect us. Yes, it works against lespedeza worms, but it also works against other pests we don’t think about too often.

“Now, because we don’t have it, we’ll have to look at some other products and scouting options.”

Mid-season, Wilson looked at several fields with rice water weevils. There was substantial injury, and some fields had to be drained. In 2007, Wilson said, farmers should be scouting more for rice water weevils.

Shortly after that, the weather became very hot and dry.

“I believe the heat had an effect on our yields. I’m always concerned about July and August weather. We seem to have a lot better yields when temperatures are a bit milder. When you start getting into extreme heat — particularly at night — it has an effect on yield and milling, as well.”

Then, late in harvest, northeast Arkansas was deluged with 12 inches to 15 inches of rain. “There was rice still in the field, although the soybean crop was hurt more.”

Despite those problems, the state averaged 152 bushels per acre in 2006. That’s second only to the 2004 yield of 155 bushels.

However, that yield came on fewer acres. In 2006, Arkansas producers planted 1.4 million acres of rice — down 235,000 acres from 2005 and the lowest in 10 years.

“That’s a significant decline. We’d been hovering in the 1.5 million to 1.6 million-acre range for several years. Market prices finally caught up with us in 2006. Everyone was looking at fuel and fertilizer costs.”

Early indications are that rice acreage could decline again in 2007.

LibertyLink surfaces

Then, the bomb fell. On Aug. 18, USDA announced the presence of LibertyLink traits in the commercial rice supply. Initially, it was reported in Arkansas and Missouri. Over time, it became apparent the entire Mid-South had a problem.

In October, there were also reports that another LL line — LL62 –had been found in rice.

“Several years ago, (the LL) technology was owned by Agrevo and was subsequently bought by Bayer. When Agrevo was doing work (on LL) … it was looking at three different lines for potential market release.

“It decided that LL601 was a variety that, for agronomic reasons, wasn’t suitable for what it (needed). It decided to not seek approval for it.

“For the other two, though, the company did seek and receive approval from FDA and APHIS as a pre-consumption product. However, LL601 wasn’t approved and hadn’t been at the time of the (August USDA) announcement. Therefore, finding it in the commercial rice supply was an illegal introduction.”

Since then USDA has approved LL601 for human consumption. But while approved in the United States, “it isn’t in any other country and it probably won’t be.”

LL62, meanwhile, has been approved in the United States and Canada and “is in the channel” for approval in other countries.

Market impact

Finding the LL601 trait “has had a significant market impact, particularly in the foreign export market. Domestic markets, according to the reports I’ve gotten, have been fairly steady.

“Luckily Mexico — our number one (export market) — hasn’t been impacted,” said Wilson, citing USA Rice Federation (USARF) numbers. “Trade continues in the $165 million market. But if you go down the list, number six is the EU. That market — $87 million — has closed. The Philippines aren’t importing rice. That’s another $18 million (impacted).”

Another thing to notice is Iraq, Canada, Saudi Arabia and other countries are buying U.S. rice only if tests show U.S. rice has an LL trait below a certain level. The testing is an added expense for the U.S. rice industry.

Yet another issue is “negative propaganda,” said Wilson. For an example, the specialist showed the front page of a Ghanaian business newspaper with a headline in massive type: “Health Alert: Beware of banned U.S. rice.”

When foreign newspapers “print articles such as this, it has an impact on the market.”

Early plan

Attempting to purge the LL trait, in October “the USARF put together a group consisting of millers, processors, growers, state plant boards and government agencies, university officials and seed dealers. They wanted a comprehensive group to come up with a plan to figure out a way to re-establish the market supply.”

Late in the year, the LL trait was traced back to the Cheniere variety.

“With it being in only one variety, there was hope we could effectively clean up this market over time. That was the goal of putting this plan together.”
The October plan consisted of several parts:

• Dealing with the seed channel. “This 2003 (foundation seed) Cheniere is really the source of all seed (in the variety) currently being grown. So we must deal with Cheniere and also ensure that future seed isn’t contaminated prior to entering the farm or mill.

• The mills want to ensure no more LL rice comes in and want it flushed from the system. “They’re going to require some documentation. There are also some cleaning operations they must do as they clean up their facilities. There is also some clean-up (on the farm level).”

Arkansas’ plan

The Arkansas Plant Board passed its own regulations the last week of December. “As far as the seed channel is concerned, all head-row breeder, foundation seed must be tested and found negative for LL traits at 0.01 percent. If we can start out with a clean supply and refurbish the seed industry with clean seed, hopefully we’ll flush out any LL rice in the system.

“Once it leaves the source for foundation seed, it goes to registered seed. All registered and certified seed, regardless of variety, must be tested for LL traits.”

If seed is sold in lots, the lot numbers must be traceable. “If a positive (LL test) is found, we want to be able to trace that lot of seed back to the original source.”

The USARF plan called for no Cheniere rice to be produced in 2007. The Plant Board extended that ban through 2008.

“Other states have looked at following suit. I believe Louisiana has banned the production of Cheniere, but it hasn’t mandated the testing Arkansas has. I don’t know that any other states have made it a law that Cheniere can’t be grown.

“Again, it will be market-driven. The buyers will be the enforcement tool for a lot of this across the Mid-South.”

The millers will require documentation saying seed has been tested and found negative for LL traits. That documentation will have to be traced back to the seed supply.

“In other words, when a farmer buys seed he’ll get documentation that the seed lot has been tested. He’ll then have to present that to the buyer.”
The grower must supply three pieces of documentation:

• Proof the seed was tested and found negative for LL traits.

• A sales receipt where he purchased seed with lot numbers and the amount of seed bought.

• Proof of FSA-certified rice acreage. “They want to ensure a producer is planting the amount of rice he (claims). The alternative for unscrupulous people would be to buy 100 acres of rice seed and then plant 500 acres with bin-saved seed. So your rice seed purchases will be matched against your FSA reports.”

The paperwork can be done in advance with most buyers.

“There will be some random sampling done by dryers. This isn’t something that will happen overnight. When you deliver rice, they won’t test it and stop you from dumping it. The test turnaround isn’t that quick. I believe there’s a two week turnaround for a test.”

Outside Cheniere, there is a provision for farm-saved seed.

“However, if you’ve saved seed, you’re responsible for contacting the Plant Board. They’ll come out and supervise a sample collection. It’s then your responsibility to get that sample sent to a lab and have it tested. (The producer) bears the cost of that.

“There’s also a provision in Arkansas law that if, on a farm-saved basis, you’ve produced Cheniere in 2005-06, (your bins) won’t be tested. That’s the case even if you’re saving Wells off the farm.”

Also part of the plan, seed dealers and mills will have to clean out their facilities. On a farm-saved basis, farmers must clean out their bins, combines, trucks, grain carts, augurs — “anything that’s had Cheniere in it needs to be thoroughly cleaned. (Such a cleanup) isn’t an easy task. It isn’t a 15 minute job.”

For farmers who grew Cheniere in 2006, “we’re asking they not plant those fields back into rice. This is a recommendation, not a law. If you’re committed to rice in those fields, our recommendation is to plant a Clearfield. Hopefully Newpath will take out any volunteer plants. There is some concern some volunteer (Cheniere) could contaminate the 2007 crop.”

Wilson said more on the new regulations and expectations for the 2007 growing season will be discussed at the Rice Research Conference in Wynne, Ark., on Feb. 13. For more information and to sign up, visit www.uark.edu/ua/ricecap/Arkansas Rice Conference.htm.