Long coastline an advantage for large-scale cultivation
China's long coastline provides a big opportunity for cultivation of sea-rice but more research is needed to optimize the species, experts said, after China's "father of hybrid rice," Yuan Longping, revealed that a plan to cultivate rice near the coast is being researched by his team.
Yuan, 86, head of the sea-rice research and development center, delivered a speech at the World Life Science Conference in Beijing on Wednesday, saying that a newly founded research center in Qingdao, East China's Shandong Province, planned to expand the yield of sea-rice to 200 kilograms per mu (0.067 hectare) within three years, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
Wild sea-rice is sometimes found in saline-alkaline soil at the junctures where rivers join the sea. The plant is resistant to pests, diseases, salt and alkali and does not need fertilizer. But its unit output is only around 75 kilograms, Xinhua reported.
Compared with other countries, China has a natural advantage in cultivating sea-rice, as the wild rice growing at the estuary of long rivers could provide valuable scientific data, said Yuan.
"The sea-rice could expand the source of food and arable area by making use of China's long shoreline," Lu Baorong, a biology professor at Fudan University, told the Global Times.
"The main problem in cultivating sea-rice lies in the salt-tolerance capability," Lu noted.
The Qingdao research center will use gene sequencing to cultivate new, high-yield strains of sea-rice that can grow with saline water, but the technology is a challenge, Yuan said.
However, he noted that China has more than 1 billion mu of saline-alkali land that has not been cultivated so far, together with some 10 million mu of intertidal zone. "The cultivation of sea-rice is very promising."
The target yield of sea-rice is 300 kilograms per mu, he revealed.
In response to a comment that the hybrid rice is of "high quantity with low quality" during the Wednesday conference, Yuan said that the combination of "high quality" and "high quantity" is very difficult, but they are not necessarily contradictory, Xinhua reported.
"Some people have a bias against hybrid rice, claiming that high quantity cannot come with high quality," Yuan said, adding that "in the last century, the main goal was to solve the subsistence problem, so we needed to prioritize quantity; but now, we are also focusing on quality."
Yuan said that China has a huge population with a small per capita cultivated land and in order to ensure food security, the country has to increase the yield per unit area, instead of striving for quality.
Over the past decades, Chinese scientists, led by Yuan, have worked out new approaches to significantly increasing the yield of rice, Xinhua reported