By STEVEN NALLEY
Of the six varieties of rice Dwight Kanter developed and named, three are named after small Mississippi Delta towns: Litton, Pace and Priscilla.
Kanter developed these varieties during a 24-year tenure as leader of the Mississippi State University Delta Research and Extension Center’s rice breeding program. He said while he does not come from Mississippi, he does come from the small town of Palmer, Neb., and he carries respect for small towns everywhere.
“Those towns had an active life in times past and they’ll probably be more or less forgotten unless there’s somebody to keep them alive,” Kanter said. “I thought (the rice names) would be a good way to keep these towns ... alive to the present and future generations.”
Kanter retired from MSU July 1, leaving a permanent legacy for MSU and farmers everywhere by using genetics to build a better rice crop.
Kanter has also spent 14 years breeding rice with the International Rice Research Institute based in Los Banos, Philippines, a job which took him to Vietnam, the Philippines and Bangladesh. Kanter said he has always found rice interesting to work with because of its diversity.
“Rice grow in a lot of countries, a lot of different environments,” Kanter said. “There’s a lot of genetic variation, so there’s a lot that can be exploited and utilized in commercial production to increase yields to make it a more sustainable crop. There’s a number of diseases in rice, so there are probably genes we can use to put to economic benefit for local production. We need to utilize that genetic variation for economical benefit.”
Kanter’s successor as program leader is Timothy Walker, who has worked directly with Kanter for the past three years. It takes many years to develop a new variety of rice after the initial breeding, he said, making it necessary to judge the market’s needs eight to 10 years in advance.
“I am both excited and challenged (by) the opportunity we have to move the MSU Rice Breeding Program forward,” Walker said. “My vision is for our program to be a legitimate player in providing new varieties to the southern USA rice industry.
“The driving force over the past three years (was) for us to be more efficient in the process of evaluating new rice lines,” Walker added. “We have been successful at implementing processes to be more efficient. We will now be driven to be more effective. The main thing we will be looking for is to increase the number of rice acreage produced with Mississippi-developed varieties. With us increasing our efficiency, we will have the time and resources to exploit tools that will help our effectiveness.”
Walker said he also has close ties with the rice industry as a whole, including growers, millers and end users, and he hopes these ties will help DREC achieve these goals. Kanter said he feels the program is in capable, dedicated hands now, and he is grateful for the support MSU has offered through the years and for the colleagues he has worked with.
“I think there’s tremendous potential here for the improvement of rice in different ways,” Kanter said. “I hope the people who have followed me will have the same outlook and same energy and motivation to continue to improve rice.”
In a press release, DREC head Steven Martin said Kanter’s contributions to rice breeding are immeasurable, and MSU has been fortunate to have him. Outside the release, he said the six rice varieties he developed have already spread across Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana.
“They have been (and could be) used as parents in other variety development anywhere perpetually,” Martin said.
Kanter said he has not yet decided what he will do now that he is retired. He said he retired because he wanted to try something new, but he has not decided what that something is.
“I’ve been in the business a long time,” Kanter said. “I was in good health and everything, (so) I thought if I was going to try something else, now is the time to do it. I just want to see what else is going on in the rice community and see if there’s any options there and or starting my own family business, but I haven’t worked all that out yet. I’ve got some thoughts and want to explore them to see if they lead anyplace.”