Indian scientists develop new, shorter-duration Basmati rice

The Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) has launched an early maturing Basmati rice variety with seed-to-seed maturity of only 110-123 days against the 140-145 days the Pusa-1121 and Pusa Basmati-1 (an older improved basmati) take.

The new variety, Pusa Punjab Basmati 1509, has a lower plant height of 80cm as against 120cm for Pusa-1121. It has already been planted in around 5,000 hectares in the 2013 kharif season.

''I expect it to reach one million hectares (mh) in the coming season, replacing a large part of the 1.4 mh now covered under Pusa-1121,'' says Ashok K Singh, project leader (rice) at IARI and the main breeder of Pusa-1509. Singh was also involved in developing Pusa-1121.

Pusa Punjab Basmati 1509 possesses extra-long slender grains (8.19 mm) with very occasional grain chalkiness, very good kernel length after cooking (18.2 mm), desirable ASV (7.0), intermediate amylose content (21.24 per cent) and strong aroma. Considering the advantages such as semi-dwarf stature, non-lodging and non-shattering habit, reduced duration, yield, the new variety has certain advantages.

Thirty days less time means farmers needn't transplant the seedlings in the peak mid-June summer. ''They can do it in mid-July with the onset of the monsoon rains, saving 5-6 irrigations,'' he pointed out.

Alternatively, they could raise an additional crop - say, a 60-day moong or green gram - between harvesting of wheat in mid-April and transplanting Pusa-1509 in mid-July, he added.

The shorter size also offers scope for greater fertiliser application and, since there is no lodging or grain-shattering, allows use of combines for harvesting. ''Lower height enables more fertiliser application. You can apply 2-3 bags of urea in Pusa-1509 for the entire season.

''Pusa-1121 cannot tolerate more than one bag. The plant will simply lodge and the grains, too, may shatter or drop from the panicles,'' Singh explained.

The new variety comes a decade after the release of Pusa-1121, a rice variety that accounts for roughly three-fourths of India's $4 billion-plus annual basmati exports.