“Plant Breeding is the art and science of changing the traits of plants in order to product desired characteristics.” – Sleper and Poehlman, Breeding Field Crops, 1995.
Rice Breeding in Retrospect
Rice was introduced in Guyana in 1750 by the Dutch and later by the French in 1782. Soon after, the importance of the rice crop was recognized by Guyana’s colonial rulers and attention was focused on varietal improvement. The earliest varieties were ‘Blue rose’ and ‘Blue stick’; which were introduced from the United Stated of America (USA). The first local variety was ‘Demerara Creole’; which evolved through pure-line selection in the late twenties.
BG 79 (No. 79) was developed through pure-line selection of an unknown variety of Indian origin which was probably brought into Guyana by the indentured labourers and was made available for cultivation in 1930. This medium grain variety was well adapted to flooded conditions and dominated rice production for almost half a century. It was later replaced by the Starbonnet (an introduction from USA) and the Bluebelle in 1976.
The age of semi-dwarf varieties came about with the introduction of numerous IRRI lines. The variety, IR 22 was one such variety, and although never officially recommended, it is still cultivated in some parts of Berbice due to its suitability for parboiling and tolerance to drought.
One of the largest break-through in varietal development came about with the development of the Rustic variety which was released in 1976. This variety was ideal for the direct-seeded and flooded cultivation system in Guyana. Diwani was later introduced from Suriname in 1982.
The Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) has organized it a breeding program to systematically develop rice varieties in the mid nineties. In 1997 three blast resistant varieties: the F7 10, BR 240 and BR 444 were released for commercial cultivation. Another four varieties viz.G98-22-1, G98-24-1, G98-30-3 and G98-196 were released in 2001 These varieties were not only high yielding (4-6 tons/hectare) but also resistant to blast and possess excellent milling and cooking qualities. In 2005, G98-135 which was superior to the other G98 lines was released.
During the second season of 2009, the GRDB 09 and GRDB 10 were released for commercial production in Guyana. The GRDB 09 was developed locally; while the GRDB 10 was a result of collaborative work with FLAR . Both were high yielding (GRDB 09 yields approximately 6.5 – 7 t/ha and the GRDB 10 yields approximately 6.8 – 7 t/h) and blast resistant varieties with excellent milling and cooking qualities. The GRDB 09 was known for its tolerance to lodging and ability to emerge from 22.8 inches (9 inches) of standing water. In the second crop of 2011, the GRDB 11 and GRDB 12 were release. These are high yielding (6-7 t/ha) with good field tolerance . The first specialty rice (Aromatic) variety, GRDB 13, was release for cultivated in Guyana in 2013. Another high yielding (6-7.5 t/ha) variety ( GRDB 14) with good tolerance to lodging was released in 2015. This variety also possesses excellent early vigour, very good tillering ability with excellent milling and cooking qualities.
Objectives of the Plant Breeding Department
The Plant Breeding Department of the Rice Research Station has developed an exceptional breeding program to satisfy the needs of Guyana’s rice farmers in face of the new challenges of an evolving industry, ever-changing climatic conditions, and competitive global and regional markets. The major objectives are as follows:
- Increasing the yield potential of local varieties
- Developing varieties with the tolerance to lodging
- Producing blast resistant varieties
- Developing varieties with high milling and cooking qualities
- Evolving varieties with different grain types
- Developing varieties with tolerance to saline conditions
- Developing aromatic varieties
- Maintaining the genetic purity of commercial varieties and producing sufficient quantity of seed of high genetic purity
- Decentralizing the production of seeds