Mid-South mills are warning producers that the quality of U.S. long-grain rice is increasingly at the top of customer concerns. Following several extremely difficult growing seasons that produced uneven rice crops, quality has been a hot topic during winter meetings.

An LSU AgCenter report on a Jan. 26 meeting in north Louisiana quoted rice breeder Steve Linscombe. “The mills are starting to look at the quality of these different varieties,” he said, adding that farmers with better quality rice may get a premium for their crop.

For the full report, see here.

Several weeks later, on Feb. 9, Linscombe, who runs the AgCenter’s Rice Research Station in Crowley, La., spoke with Delta Farm Press about the reasons for the rise of quality concerns, how they’re being addressed by researchers and crop physiology. Among his comments:

On current quality worries...

“The quality issue with Southern long-grain rice that everyone is talking about has been on the radar screen for a while. I was at a grower meeting last night and gave a talk on ‘rice quality 101.’

“It came to a head in 2010 with the grain problems seen in the Arkansas, Mississippi, north Louisiana and Missouri region due to excessive heat. Those growing conditions had a real impact on the crop. Because of the issues in that rice crop, people began to talk much more about it.

“Then, in 2011, we had some problems in (south Louisiana) because of climatic conditions.

“Really, though, there have been quality questions over the last few years despite the weather. Certain lines of rice have quality issues, period.”

On what ‘rice quality’ actually is…

“When you talk about ‘rice quality’ you’re casting a very wide net.

“Most people in the industry first mention milling yield or milling quality. How much breakage do you have in the milling process? That’s what growers are paid on. They get premiums for having head-rice yields above a standard and face deductions if they’re below the standard. In many minds, that’s the primary quality factor – and it is very important.

“However, ‘quality’ is all-encompassing and one thing that’s included is chalkiness. It’s best for rice grains to be almost clear, translucent. A bag of rice with a high percentage of chalky grains isn’t aesthetically pleasing.

“Chalky grains also have a greater potential for breakage during the milling process. However, many don’t break and then end up bagged.”

On chalkiness and grain characteristics…

“What I’ve learned through the years is that it’s very important to understand that chalkiness is a grain characteristic that’s very much influenced by genetics and also by environment. To illustrate that, you have certain genotypes of rice that have a pretty high resistance to chalk. Even under severe environmental conditions normally such types of rice won’t have a tremendous amount of chalk.

“Other varieties, regardless of the environmental conditions during the growing season, will typically have a lot of chalk. An example of that is Milagro that’s been grown primarily in Texas for a specific Mexican market.

“Most of our rice varieties fall in between those extremes. They tend to be less chalky under ideal environmental conditions. But as those conditions are more adverse, more chalk occurs.

“What environmental are worst for causing chalk? Heat, no doubt. High temperatures – especially, I believe, high nighttime temperatures – increase chalk.”