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Rice Production Plan Could Be Controversial

“If you grew a quarter section of this stuff, on a hot day in July the area for miles would smell like a Polish sausage factory.”

Scientists at the Cereal Research Centre in Winnipeg are refusing to comment on reports that they have developed a winter-hardy variety of rice suitable for production on the Canadian Prairies.

According to sources, the project has been jointly funded by the federal and Manitoba governments, both looking to reduce expenses associated with annual flooding in the Red River Valley.

Production of the crop would require that fields be kept flooded to a depth of between eight and 10 centimetres throughout the growing season.

Rather than draining the valley each spring, its elaborate system of drainage ditches could be kept closed, holding water back and mitigating flood concerns farther downstream in the City of Winnipeg. Rice fields must be drained for harvest, but not until late summer or early fall when the danger of spring flooding had passed.

GMO VARIETY

An internal report obtained by the Co-operator says that the new rice variety, tentatively named Emerson after the town near where the research plots were located, can be seeded either in spring or fall. Only broadcast equipment is needed – the seeds sink and germinate without incorporation.

Unlike conventional rice but like winter wheat, the plant can go dormant over winter and resume growth the following spring.

However this may be one of the many controversial aspects of the project as Emerson is a genetically modified variety. The gene responsible for the dormancy was obtained from garlic.

“This raises two concerns,” says the internal report. “The transgenic nature of the plant may lead to consumer resistance.” And the gene responsible for the dormancy is the same responsible for garlic’s aroma.

“Not only does the rice have a distinct garlic taste, the growing plant also exudes a strong garlic smell.”

A source put it even more bluntly.

“If you grew a quarter section of this stuff, on a hot day in July the area for miles would smell like a Polish sausage factory.”

However the report says that if the concerns about local residents can be overcome, the rice may have potential if it could be shipped to Eastern Europe, where the built-in flavour and aroma could have a ready market.

The rice may also have a fit with the hog industry. The National Centre for Livestock and the Environment at Glenlea has begun feeding trials which show that the hogs fed the rice produce meat with a subtle garlic flavour. Application has been made for an MRAC grant to test market the pork through grocery stores in Quebec.

BUFFER ZONE

According to the report, for rice production in the Red River Valley to be commercially viable as well as to provide significant flood mitigation, tens of thousands of acres would be required to be kept under water for much of the summer, creating a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

The report suggests that there should be a buffer zone of at least 20 miles between the rice fields and the City of Winnipeg to prevent resident complaints about mosquitoes and odour.

Valley farmers interviewed about the project had mixed views. “I don’t want to live in a mosquito-infested swamp reeking of garlic all summer,” said one.

“But it’s the smell of money,” said another. An agronomist who asked that his name not

be used said he was skeptical that valley farmers would ever accept the crop, since the seed can simply be broadcast over the flooded ground each spring.

“You’ll never get the guys in the valley to go for zero till,” he said.

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