A promising perennial rice variety is transforming farming in China

Perennial Rice 23 (PR23) in a farm in China (Photo from The Land Institute)

In a newly published article on nature sustainability, researchers at Yunnan University in Kunming, China, reported the successful cultivation of Perennial Rice 23 (PR23). This cultivar of rice doesn’t have to be replanted each season and could reap up to eight harvests, researchers reported.

Rice is a widely consumed staple food for a large part of the human population. However, rice production is a labor and resource-intensive activity for farmers who need to replant it every season. 

Since the 1970s, Chinese researchers have been trying to develop ‘perennial rice’ to prolong the plant’s life and reduce the labor costs of rice production. Researchers initially made a breakthrough in 1996, though the resulting variety wasn’t suitable for large-scale production yet. 

In 2018, researchers from Yunnan University finally developed a commercial-grade perennial variety of rice called PR23. The research team spent five years studying PR23 performance alongside annual rice on farms throughout the province of Yunnan. The yield began to drop in the fifth year due to various reasons. It led the researchers to recommend re-sowing perennial rice after four years.

In 2021, researchers reported that from the initial 3,642 hectares of farms, there were already around 15,378 hectares planted with PR23 rice. According to the researchers, growing perennial rice put in almost 60% less labor and saved nearly half of the money spent on seeds, fertilizer, and other inputs. The rice variety also has numerous positive impacts on the environment, such as avoiding yearly tillage and higher soil organic carbon and nitrogen stored.

Like with any newly developed crop variety, scientists need more data and tests before PR23 can be distributed globally. 


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