Arkansas has more than 1.2 million acres of farmland used for rice production and is the largest producer of rice in the United States, supplying fifty percent of the nation’s crop. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Agricultural Research Service (ARS), supports this important industry through research conducted at the Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center (DBNRRC) in genetics, physiology, pathology, agronomy, and cereal chemistry to improve rice yield, grain quality, and resistance to diseases, insects, pests, and environmental stress.
USDA ARS has conducted rice research at this site since 1931. In 1998, however, a new state-of-the-art facility was completed that allowed tremendous expansion of the scientific staff and scope of the conducted research. The center was named after U.S. senator Dale Bumpers, who was instrumental in its establishment. The largest rice research center in the United States funded by the federal government, it is located in the heart of the rice-growing region in Stuttgart (Arkansas County). Research conducted at the DBNRRC addresses issues that are national in scope, resulting in new scientific knowledge that impacts scientists, farmers, millers, processors, and consumers. Research collaborations with universities, state experiment stations, international research institutions, and private industry help to achieve research goals that are established at DBNRRC every five years.
The main focus of the program is to develop a better understanding of the genes and physiological processes that control economically important traits (e.g., yield, pest resistance, and cooking quality) in rice. This research will result in the identification of rice cultivars possessing novel genes and traits that can be used by breeders and geneticists to develop improved cultivars for production by U.S. farmers, as well as an understanding of plant response mechanisms to stress caused by pathogens, insects, weeds, extremes in temperatures, and the varying availability of water and nutrients. Many of the scientists at DBNRRC have been recognized nationally and internationally for their scientific achievements, development of improved germplasm and cultivars, development of improved research methodologies, and enhanced understanding of plant biological processes.
The DBNRRC consists of 42,000 square feet of laboratory and office space and 14,000 square feet of greenhouse space—facilities that allow research to be conducted on rice plants year round. The facility is home to the Genetic Stocks–Oryza collection, which consists of more than 20,000 genetic seed stocks that are distributed to researchers around the world. This collection is maintained in a 1,578-square-foot seed storage room that is temperature and humidity controlled. The DBNRRC also has an auditorium that seats 150 people and is frequently used by researchers, members of the rice industry, and state and federal government representatives to discuss issues relevant to rice production in the United States. The DBNRRC employs about fifty people, including at least ten PhD-level researchers, and frequently hosts visiting scientists from around the world who are participating in collaborative research. In addition, DBNRRC shares a joint research mission with the USDA ARS Rice Research Unit in Beaumont, Texas, and both centers combine expertise and resources to address research problems important to the U.S. rice industry.
On October 24, 2016, Wengui Yan, a scientist who worked at the USDA center, pleaded guilty to charges stemming from a 2013 visit by a Chinese delegation. According to his plea, Yan arranged for the delegation to visit a local farm where they would have the opportunity to steal proprietary rice seeds.
For additional information:
Dilday, R. H., et al. Rice Germplasm Evaluation and Enhancement at the Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center. Edited by J. N. Rutger, J. F. Robinson, and R. H. Dilday. Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station Special Report 195. Fayetteville: Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, 1999.
Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center. http://www.ars.usda.gov/Main/docs.htm?docid=1668 (accessed January 30, 2009).
Anna Myers McClung
Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center