Researcher gets funding to explore black rice dryland crops for climate-smart future

Researchers Tobias Keetzschmer and Szabolcs Lehoczki-Krsjak with Steve Rogers from Kyogle’s Natural Rice Company at the experimental rice crop in Lismore.

The world’s most eaten staple food is a water guzzling, high methane-emitting crop.

A Southern Cross University researcher aims to change that by tackling the challenge of breeding rice for Australia that grows without standing in flood-irrigation water.

Dr Szabolcs Lehoczki-Krsjak, a research fellow in rice breeding and genetics, has the backing of the Australian Research Council and has been awarded an Industry Fellowship worth $417,391 over three years for his project Speed breeding with a twist for water-saving low-carbon rice.

Mr Lehoczki-Krsjak will explore sustainable ‘dryland’ rice production in the Northern Rivers with industry partner the Natural Rice Company, based at Kyogle.Natural Rice Company general manager Steve Rogers said producing dryland rice eliminates methane and irrigation.

“This needs to be the goal of food production into the future,” he said.

“This climate we have here in the Northern Rivers is very unique for rice-growing. It’s probably the most unique dryland rice producing area in Australia.”

Mr Lehoczki-Krsjak said his aim was to examine drought and cold tolerance in rice.

“Once I’ve found genotypes with the necessary stress tolerance level, I’ll dissect their genetic background to identify which part of their genome carries stress tolerance genes. This will help us to develop new climate smart varieties of rice,” he said. 

Experimental rice crop in Lismore.

Methane, the second-most important greenhouse gas contributor, is produced by bacteria that live in the soil of the flooded paddies under oxygen-restricted conditions.

“These bacteria are way less active in methane emission under dryland rice production,” said Dr Lehoczki-Krsjak.

Mr Lehoczki-Krsjak’s earlier research done with Southern Cross University’s Professor Tobias Kretzschmar led to the development of new ‘climate smart’ lines of rice that not only help save irrigation water, but also reduce greenhouse gas emissions generated by the Australian rice industry.

These ‘climate smart’ rices include dryland-grown black rices that are high in natural fibre and antioxidant anthocyanins, making them a healthy – and tasty – dietary choice.

Video by Southern Cross University.

The information in this report was provided by Southern Cross University.

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