In a state that leads the country in rice production, the city of Stuttgart stands out.
A leader in global production of rice, Stuttgart is home to the world’s largest ricemilling and marketing company, Riceland Foods, and another milling leader, Producers Rice Mill. Together the companies handle approximately 40 percent of the nation’s rice crop and employ more than 1,500 people.
Stuttgart is also home to the Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center, a state-of-the-art facility with labs, seed storage, greenhouses and offices. Nine United States Department of Agriculture scientists are headquartered there, and three more are slated to be added. Their role is do the basic research needed to keep the U.S. rice industry competitive in the global marketplace.
“We are very focused on genetics,” says Anna McClung, geneticist and senior researcher with the Dale Bumpers Center. “Our mission is to explore natural genetic diversity that exists in rice.”
In the United States, more than 18,000 rice cultivars are stored in the USDA gene bank, according to McClung. Dale Bumpers scientists evaluate those cultivars to identify traits that would be useful for breeders and to understand how to use those traits in creating improved rice varieties.
“This research is important to farmers in terms of improving yield and disease resistance, and to the milling industry in terms of quality and appearance of the grain,” McClung says. “Our work is important to consumers for the nutritional value, the taste and appearance of the rice.”
An example of that work is the development of Charleston Gold, an aromatic rice, derived from Carolina Gold (an heirloom variety that was the basis for establishing the U.S. rice industry) combined with genetic material from the Philippines and India. It has excellent yields, disease resistance and good cooking quality. This cultivar may lend itself to production under organic conditions, and will be used in the historically authentic cuisine of the Carolinas. McClung was involved in the development of Charleston Gold.
McClung says Arkansas, and particularly Stuttgart, plays a major role in producing rice for the international market.
“When you consider that citizens in some countries get 70 percent of their calories from rice, it’s clear that Arkansas rice production is important in the global food market.”
The Dale Bumpers Center, adjacent to the University of Arkansas Rice Research and Extension Center, has approximately 15 scientists and researchers working focused on the improvement of production efficiency for rice farmers in Arkansas and emphasizing natural resource conservation.