2022 Zhang Sustained productivity and agronomic potential of perennial rice
There is an urgent need for agricultural systems to intensify sustainably, increasing crop productivity, farmer livelihoods and soil health while using fewer resources. Crop perennialization, the conversion of especially annual grains to perennial forms, has shown such possibility. Here we report the successful breeding of perennial rice and assess its performance and potential. Domesticated, annual Asian rice (Or yza sativa) was hybridized with its perennial African relative Or yza longistaminata. From a single planting, irrigated perennial rice produced grain for eight consecutive harvests over four years, averaging 6.8 Mg ha−1 harvest−1 versus the 6.7 Mg of replanted annual rice, which required additional labour and seed. Four years of cropping with perennial rice resulted in soils accumulating 0.95 Mg ha–1 yr–1 organic carbon and 0.11 Mg ha−1 yr−1 nitrogen, along with increases in soil pH (0.3–0.4) and plant-available water capacity (7.2 mm). Perennial cultivars are strongly preferred by farmers; growing them saves 58.1% of labour and 49.2% of input costs in each regrowth cycle. In 2021, perennial rice was grown on 15,333 ha by 44,752 smallholder farmers in southern China. Suited to a broad range of frost-free environments between 40° N and 40° S, perennial rice is a step change with potential to improve livelihoods, enhance soil quality and inspire research on other perennial grains.