Scientists in central China have achieved record-breaking yields in an experimental rice field in Hunan Province, marking a new milestone in the country’s food security efforts.
The plot in Hunan’s Hengnan county, planted with the third generation of hybrid rice varieties, produced a total of nearly 1,500 kg per mu, or about 22.5 tonnes per hectare, in two growing seasons, according to assessment results announced by researchers on Monday.
The particular rice strain, developed by Chinese agronomist Yuan Longping and his team and named “Sanyou No. 1”, is known for its high yield and resilience to unfavourable weather conditions.
The late-season hybrid rice yield measured on Monday reached 911.7 kg per mu – each mu measures about 0.07 hectares.
In July, another third-generation hybrid rice strain growing in the same plot yielded early harvests of 619 kg per mu. The combined harvests of the two seasons have set a new world record for rice yields, according to the China National Hybrid Rice Research and Development Center.
“I am more than excited and extremely satisfied with the results. It is a team effort,” Yuan, the 91-year-old agricultural expert dubbed the “father of hybrid rice,” said while watching the live announcement ceremony.
The new record means 1 mu (0.067 hectare) of a rice field can feed five people each year, he added.
“The next step is to promote the experiences of Hengnan county and distribute the rice variety in other provinces and regions in order to further contribute to the country’s food production,” Yuan said.
Yuan and his team began cultivating and selecting third-generation rice varieties in 2011 before starting trial planting in 2017.
The new generation of hybrid rice survived unfavorable conditions of low temperatures and shorter durations of sunlight, according to Li Qiusheng, an agronomist with the agriculture and rural affairs bureau in Hengnan county. Citing meteorological data, Li added that there were only 43.85 effective hours of sunshine this year during the critical period of rice growth, compared with 187.8 hours last year.
Furthermore, Li emphasized that the particular village chosen for the trial planting was no different than other villages, and the rice did not receive any extra care from scientists or farmers.
Under similar conditions, yields of local double-cropping rice averaged between 700 and 800 kg per mu, half of the new hybrid rice yield.
China now feeds around 20% of the world’s population, with less than 9% of the world’s arable land.
Yuan, who developed the world’s first hybrid rice in the 1970s by crossbreeding different kinds of rice, has set multiple world records in yields in previous years.
Currently, Yuan’s research team is working on refining third-generation hybrid rice combinations and conducting studies on simplifying cultivation and reducing fertilizer usage.