Donn Beighley says he's “glad for a little help from his friends” to paraphrase the old Beatles song.
Beighley, who is in his second year as the rice breeder at the Missouri Rice Research and Demonstration Farm near Malden, is at least seven or eight years away from releasing a variety from his breeding program.
So, while he monitors the results of several thousand crosses to start the long road to a new rice variety bred specifically for the Missouri Bootheel, he's also looking at a number of varieties from other rice-producing states.
“We're getting a lot of help from Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas,” said Beighley, a former soybean breeder who spent 13 years working with Hartz Seed Co., in Stuttgart, Ark. “Their breeders have been very quick to share germplasm with us.
“That's giving me exposure to their best lines, and giving me an opportunity to see lines that might be better-adapted to southeast Missouri.”
Since it normally takes about 10 years or more to bring a new variety from a cross to farmers' fields, Beighley is very much into looking for “shortcuts” to achieve his program's objective of providing Bootheel rice growers with new and better varieties.
Missouri farmers, who grow nearly 200,000 acres of rice annually, have long wanted their own breeding program. Last year, the Missouri Rice Research and Merchandising Council secured funding from the Missouri legislature for the program, which is run jointly by the Rice Council and Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau.
By the time the council and SEMO could get organized and hire Beighley, the rice-planting window was right around the corner.
“Last year, we were a little behind,” laughs Beighley, recalling the experience. “This year, we got our trials in on time, and we should be able to get some reliable results from those.”
In fact, Beighley planted some rice in early March this year.
“In this study, we're trying to evaluate varieties in groups — early-season and medium-season,” he said, giving a visitor a tour of the Rice Demonstration Farm. “We have planting dates for each group, ranging from early March through late June.”
Beighley is taking a three-pronged approach to creating new varieties for Missouri rice growers.
For openers, he's participating in the Uniform Regional Rice Nursery (URRN) program. State breeders enter their best lines in the URRN for testing at locations across the southern Rice Belt — Beaumont, Texas; Crowley, La.; Stuttgart, Ark.; Stoneville, Miss.; and now, Malden, Mo.
“Since we're closer to Arkansas, we're very interested in some of the varieties coming out of Karen Moldenauer's breeding program at the University of Arkansas,” he said. “We're also looking at some Texas lines that might have a fit in early planting situations here.”
He's also monitoring “segregating populations” of lines at the F2, F3 and F4 stages from other breeding programs. “You're getting the most genetic diversity from a cross between two parents at the F2 stage,” he notes.
The third step is developing new varieties from crosses made at the Rice Demonstration Farm. “In 10-plus years, we hope to have our own varieties coming to the market,” Beighley notes.
In the meantime, Beighley will continue to work on varieties closer to commercialization, including new lines developed with the Clearfield technology that are tolerant to the Newpath herbicide.
“We felt it was important that we go ahead and start working with those varieties so that we can provide up-to-date information to our growers when they become commercially available,” said Beighley.
He's also continuing to learn as much about Missouri rice production as possible.
As Beighley wrapped up an interview with an editor, a farmer drove up and asked him to go to a nearby farm to look at a field of furrow-irrigated rice. Beighley said his good-byes to the editor, climbed into the farmer's pickup and took off.