Successful harvests of the rice crop are of the utmost importance throughout Chinese history. Shortages were rarely tolerated by the populace and famines often led to riots, revolts and dynasty changes.
Improvement in the yield, disease resistance, and quality of rice is therefore a state responsibility in modern times, actively pursued by very dedicated folks who often regard developing seedlings as their own children. These researchers are sometimes aided by angels passing by (路過的天使) in discovering a revolutionary new strain.
In the 1920s, the Japanese Central Gov't decreed that mainland Japan was to develop industry, and its colony Taiwan, agriculture. The initial emphasis was on sugarcane to alleviate sugar shortage in Japan. Rice quickly became a runner up, however. Eventually how much land was to be allotted to each crop became a hot issue that could only be resolved by increasing the crop output. Plus, the rice must be of the quality that could be sold in the Japanese market.
As to exactly what are involved in the R&D process, a recent case in Hokkaido can shed some light. In 1980, researchers at Kamikawa上川 Agricultural Experiment Station set out to develop a new strain of rice that was to be competitive with the best from Honshū, i.e., Koshihikariコシヒカリ越光 and Sasanishikiササニシキ笹錦. This was a tall order because Hokkaido was too cold for southern rice strains and the native strains were known to be of such a poor quality that "even birds won't touch".
The quality of rice is defined by its amylose and protein contents. The less amylose, the stickier it gets when cooked, and the lower its protein, the fluffier and whiter it will be. Unfortunately, amylose accumulates in cold weathers. The challenge was then to develop a cold-resistant low-amylose strain for Hokkaido. Here is a short excerpt from a report [source: here]:
"...about 100 varieties are crossbred each year, and 150,000 to 200,000 offspring are produced. For the first three or four years, succeeding generations are raised to establish the desired characteristics. Tests are performed on flavor, cold and disease resistance, and yield, and the most promising hybrids are chosen. Following this, farmers grow a test crop..."
|The lineage of Yumepirika|
Success finally came in 2012, in the form of Yumepirika ゆめぴりか (i.e., the 上育453 strain) which is a combination of the Japanese word for dream (yume) and that for beautiful (pirika) in the language of Ainu (Hokkaido aborigines).