Wednesday July 31, 2013

WESTMINSTER WEST -- A collaboration of a local farm and an Ivy League laboratory will hold its fourth conference on rice farming this Saturday.

Akaogi Farm and the McCouch RiceLab at Cornell University first teamed up to organize the Northeast USA Rice Conference in 2009 and are gearing up for the fourth annual installment, having not held one in 2010. The conference, slated from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 27 Earthbridge Road, will focus on various aspects of rice farming in the Northeast region of the United States.

Outreach Coordinator Mia Murphy told the Reformer the conferences serve as a chance for researchers and farmers interested in growing rice to get together for presentations about seed saving, data collection, wildlife conservation and small-scale rice processing equipment. She said the audience usually ranges from 50 to 75 but 90 are expected to attend this year.

Murphy said presentations will be made by David Mackill, an adjunct professor of plant sciences at the University of California-Davis, engineer Don Brill and ecologist Conrad Vispo. Lunch will be catered by Shital Kinkhabwala, who has provided the food at each previous conference.

According to the conference's agenda, Brill will discuss some equipment he has worked on before Mackill speaks about stress-tolerant rice varieties and Vispo touches upon rice paddy agriculture and conservation in the Northeast.

Murphy said Brill designed some small-scale equipment after his son, Joshua, started having a problem processing rice after harvest.


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After doing some research, they learned it was expensive to import the quality machinery used in China and India and the elder Brill came up with some alternatives that can take grains of rice off a stock and remove husk off the grain. Murphy said Brill plans to showcase some designs of his equipment as well as some prototypes.

Vispo, Murphy said, has worked with farmers in upstate New York to help them to balance agriculture and wildlife conservation and find a middle ground, which she said is easier said than done.

Though the deadline for registration has passed, Murphy said there are about 10 more spots available for Saturday's conference. To register, provide your name, e-mail address and a check made out to Mia Murphy, 351 Longley Road, Groton, MA, 01450.

The conferences became possible, Murphy told the Reformer, after Akaogi Farm acquire some Council on Food, Agricultural & Resource Economics grants to pursue the idea of growing rice in the Northeast. Murphy said Susan McCouch, who runs the McCouch RiceLab in Cornell University's Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics, was invited to a workshop to provide her expertise and became impressed with what she saw. She then decided to include financing for the annual conferences in Westminster in a National Science Foundation grant he had received.

The funding also resulted in a new website and Murphy's hiring.

More information about the conference can be found at www.ricenortheasternus.org.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.