• A minimum of 6 varieties of salt-tolerant rice will be available to farmers in 2022
  • Some of the salt-tolerant varieties are behaving better than local varieties under normal conditions (non-salinized fields)

The NEURICE project is in the final stage since it will end next February 2020. The main objective of the project is to obtain salt-tolerant rice varieties and, in saline fields, behave or produce better than local varieties.

The project, according to its coordinator and professor of Plant Physiology at the Universidad de Barcelona (UB), Salvador Nogués, has got three different parts. In the first part, the salinity tolerance alleles has been to introduced in some Spanish, Italian and French rice varieties, through genetic introgression, which is a nontransgenic technique. The second part consisted in evaluating these new varieties in  hydroponics assays in the greenhouse in order to, in a third phase, test the agronomic behaviour of the selected varieties in both salinized and non-salinized fields.

This year, the third phase is being carried out with the second year of field trials with the selected salt-resistant lines that have been obtained in the first phase of the project and for which their yield and agronomic behavior is being evaluated in both saline and non-saline fields, in real time using remote sensing. These tests  what we’ve observed is that see is what varieties are more or less resistant to salinity, says the researcher of the NEURICE project at the UB, Xavier Serrat.

The project is also sequencing hundreds of rice varieties looking for new genes related to salinity tolerance in order to further improve the salt-tolerant varieties obtained in the project.

We have yet seen, says Salvador Nogués, that the most of the varieties obtained in the NEURICE project behave better than the original local varieties in salinity conditions. But surprisingly, some of the varieties behave also better than local ones in non-salinized fields, although we have to wait for the results of this second year to confirm this observed trend.

There are salinized and non-salinized field assays in France and Italy. In Spain, IRTA and Càmara Arrossera del Montsià are also evaluating the Neurice lines in Spanish fields. In addition to their yield results, the  industrial yield in mill, their amylose content and their nutritional value have been also evaluated.

One of the effects of climate change is the decrease of water availability for crops, worse quality water, and an increased salinity in soils. Therefore, it is important that all of this information obtained in the project is soon available to the breeders so that they can use it to further improve new rice varieties in Europe, says Serrat, and thus, alleviate the effects of the climatic change.

In addition, in the case of Catalonia, the salt-tolerant varieties can help farmers facing up the apple snail plague. In fact, last year, some specimens were detected in South of France, (in an area close to the Italian border). In Catalonia, it has been shown that flooding the fields with seawater eradicates the snails from the fields, although the residual salinity remaining in the fields affected the rice yield.

The participants in the project will start registering in their corresponding varietal register organism a minimum of 2 varieties of each country once the results of the second year of field trials have been obtained. Thus,   by 2022 a minimum of 6 salt-tolerant rice varieties will be available for all the European rice farmers, adds the coordinator of the NEURICE project, Salvador Nogués.