China Expands Salt-Tolerant Rice Tests to Use More Degraded Land

(Bloomberg) -- Chinese scientists will expand planting of a salt-tolerant hybrid rice breed this year as the world’s most-populous country seeks to use more of its poor-quality arable land and increase self-sufficiency.

Small-scale planting will occur in six areas across the nation after trials last year were “satisfactory,” said Du Dele, spokesman with Qingdao Saline-Alkali Tolerant Rice Research and Development Center in the coastal province of Shandong. This year’s crops will be tested for yield stability and taste before the hybrids are grown on a larger scale, Du said. The scientists will look at potential commercial production in 2019, he said.

China is the world’s top rice importer and purchases climbed to a record last year due to cheap overseas prices and as a wealthier middle class looked to high-quality varieties. The country seeks self-sufficiency in its main food crops and has previously highlighted tackling soil pollution and implementing water-conservation systems as part of its agriculture reforms. About one-fifth of rice planted worldwide is in China.

Last year, the hybrid yielded an average 620.95 kilograms per mu (0.2 acre) in simulated paddy fields with a salt concentration of six parts per 1,000. That’s about half of the highest yield when compared with all varieties of hybrid rice, according to Du. This year, the salt-tolerant strain will be grown in areas including Kashgar, in the northwest region of Xinjiang, and Dongying at the mouth of the Yellow River where sea water is encroaching on farmland, Du said.

If this year’s trials are successful, the center will expand growing of the hybrid strains commercially in 2019 and eventually to 6.7 million hectares (17 million acres) in five to eight years, said Du. China has 100 million hectares of saline-alkaline land, of which one fifth can be utilized to grow the salt-tolerant strains, according to Du.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.