In China, thousands of farmers have started a new version of rice called perennial rice, which does not have to be replanted each season but emerges year after year from long-lived roots in the soil.
Chinese scientists have been trying to develop this type of grain since the 1970s, aiming to prolong the plant’s life and reduce the labor costs of rice production. Initially, the researchers made a breakthrough in 1996, however, the resulting variety was not suitable for production.
In 2018, researchers from Yunnan University finally developed a commercial-grade variety of perennial rice called PR23. The research team spent five years studying the performance of PR23 alongside annual rice on farms all over the province of Yunnan.
As the yield began to drop in the fifth year due to a variety of reasons, the researchers then recommended re-sowing after four years.
The researchers then made a report in 2021, stating that from the initial 3,642 hectares of farms, there were already around 15,378 hectares planted with PR23 rice. According to the report, growing perennial rice put in almost 60% less labor and saved farmers nearly half of the money spent on seeds, fertilizers, and other inputs.
Furthermore, PR23 has also had numerous positive impacts on the environment, including avoiding yearly tillage and higher soil organic carbon and nitrogen stored.
Shilai Zhang, one of the leaders of the Yunnan University research group, stated that many farmers are attracted to perennial rice because it takes less work. According to farmers in some rice-growing areas in China, perennial rice helps them to avoid the hard work, and the cost, of planting seeds and transplanting seedlings into paddies each year.
Despite the early success of PR23, the researchers stated that they need more data and tests before PR23 can be distributed globally.