Small plot trial digs into the viability of rice production in Southern Alberta

(Chase Chambers/RealAgriculture)

When you imagine rice production, chances are you picture growth outside of North America and not in Southern Alberta.

When Michele Konschuh of the University of Lethbridge approached Farming Smarter about examining the potential for rice to be a value-added crop in this region, they jumped on the opportunity to give it a try.

With the rice project now in its second year, Mike Gretzinger, research coordinator at Farming Smarter, says while it is still the early days, there is potential at some point for it to be grown in the region once some more of the kinks are worked out.

“I think it’s going to be a while before you see anything on a store shelf, but I think the research ideas are in the right place, and the plans for moving forward are conservatively optimistic,” explains Gretzinger, in the video below, filmed at Farming Smarter’s June field day.

The optics surrounding rice production have many people thinking about paddy rice — one of the more common types grown. Southern Alberta does not have the infrastructure and the climate for this kind of rice, but for upland varieties and strategies that have been tried throughout the United States, British Columbia, and Ontario, they think there is opportunity for success. Especially when we consider taking a look at the current gluten-free market. (Story continues below video)

“The idea is to take the grains, fraction them, use them in processing flours and things like that. So it’s where you can replace gluten options for rice flour, and other things like that,” he explains.

One of the more difficult aspects of growing a novel crop is figuring out integrated pest management strategies, says Gretzinger. Rice is not an overly competitive crop, and due to the nature of it typically being grown in flooded situations, weed control is typically less of an issue.

It’s definitely not a crop that is currently being considered for dryland production, he notes, as it still requires controlled water availability, which is why Lethbridge was decided as a research point due to the availability of irrigated acres.

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