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'Super Rice' Acreage, Yields to Increase

High-yield "super rice," which promises to increase China's grain output substantially, will be planted on four million hectares of farmland next year, the Ministry of Agriculture said on Tuesday.

That figure represents a 25 percent increase from the land planted with super rice this year.

"Growing the strain on larger acreages is a natural option for China to raise production and ensure its food supply and security," said Zhang Fengtong, director of the ministry's Department of Science and Technology.

Last year, 10 percent of the country's rice fields, or 2.7 million hectares, were sown with super rice.

With research and cultivation of new strains now under way, the ministry envisions having at least one-third of the country's rice paddies planted with super rice in five years.

In launching the International Year of Rice 2004 late last year, Jacques Diouf, director-general of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, said that rice is the staple food for over half of the world's population, but warned that its production is facing serious constraints.

China, the world's top rice grower, produced 160.7 million tons in 2003, its lowest point since 1994, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

Total grain production, including rice, wheat, corn, and other food grains, dipped from a record high of 512 million tons in 1998 to 435 million tons in 2003.

To avert deterioration of the already strained grain supply-demand relationship, China has reserved more area for grain production while seeking to improve per-unit yields.

Super rice, piloted in China since the mid-1990s, has demonstrated improved quality as well as higher yield.

"On pilot farms, super rice yields 10.5 tons per hectare and is well on the way of producing 13.5 tons per hectare by 2010," said Shao Jiancheng, a staff member of the Ministry of Agriculture. This compares with the average of 6.5 tons per hectare for conventional strains.

However, experts said actual plantings in large areas are unlikely to match the theoretically ideal output. Strains of super rice developed so far cannot survive and thrive in all paddies throughout the country, where irrigation, soil and climate conditions vary.

But Zhang said his ministry is determined to expand the use of super rice strains. The commercialization of super rice will be stepped up by establishing pilot bases and ensuring supply of top-grade seeds.

The goal for next year is to obtain 9 tons of rice per hectare from the four million hectares planted with super rice, according to Zhang.

Zhu Defeng, a researcher with the National Rice Research Institute in east China's Zhejiang Province, said that the majority of China's super rice currently in use is hybrid rice, planted mostly in southern China.

Between 1998 and 2003, a dozen strains of the super crop had been planted in a cumulative 7.5 million hectares of land, increasing output by 6.5 million tons, Ministry of Agriculture records show.

In the next five years, 30 additional strains of super rice are expected to be developed from the test fields to be planted in paddies with less desirable conditions and for different planting seasons, according to Shao.

Wang Ren, vice director of the International Rice Research Institute in Manila, the Philippines, said on Tuesday that China has set a good example in exploring ways to increase grain yields by developing super rice.
While lauding China's progress, Wang said the country has yet to invest enough to close the gap between production potential and actual output of super rice.

(China Daily September 8, 2004)



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