Sustainable practices help pave the way ahead

Betsy Ward

By Betsy Ward
President and CEO
USA Rice

It’s hard to believe it’s almost spring, and we’re charging forward into another crop year.

No doubt as you have been preparing for planting season, you’ve been reflecting on the successes and challenges of previous seasons and applying those practical lessons on your farm.

Sustainability goals help offer new solutions every year, saving farmers money, time and resources, and resonating with customers. New technologies and innovative practices allow you to be more efficient and sustainable, to increase your yields and to continually improve the way we grow the world’s staple crop.

More crop per drop

We all know how important water is to rice, and over the past decade, rice farmers have made incredible strides in water management practices. Advancements in irrigation techniques have made the process more efficient, both in terms of saving water and reducing energy use.

Some farms are using high-tech automated water sensors that control pumps and monitor water levels 24 hours a day, ensuring that not a drop is wasted. Zero- and precision-grade land leveling, achieved by laser and GPS technology, manages water more efficiently and can reduce water use by up to 50%.

Alternate wetting and drying uses less water and minimizes greenhouse gasses, lowering the carbon footprint of rice farms.

Yield increases through research and development have resulted in varieties that are more stress tolerant, require less water and have a shorter growing season. Multiple-inlet rice irrigation cuts back on water use and improves weed control and fertilizer efficiency. And tailwater recovery systems recycle the water that flows off the field, saving it for reuse and making rice farmers less dependent on groundwater, which is crucial when those drought years inevitably roll around.

The pluses of row rice

row rice

Interest in row rice, or furrow-irrigated rice, continues to increase—Photo courtesy Mississippi State University

Another technique that is effective, though not available to everyone because of geographic differences, is row rice. Field prep is often difficult during particularly rainy seasons; row-rice practices reduce the amount of tillage, which preserves soil nutrients and decreases the number of passes over the field.

It can also cut down on some of the prep that otherwise would be a hassle during heavy spring rains, making row rice both sustainable and practical for many farmers in wetter years. And of course, wet years aren’t always a bad thing — if the timing is right. Rain can decrease pumping time and the need to move water and replenish surface water storage and reservoirs.

Dealing with Mother Nature’s whims

Overall, sustainability practices are helping farmers become less susceptible to the whims of the weather every year. Focusing on sustainability may not only save time and money and help the environment but may also give your operation the resilience and flexibility to cope with any kind of extended weather patterns that may come your way.

I’m proud to work for a sector that is leading the entire agriculture industry in sustainability, and the innovation and ingenuity of rice famers is what keeps all of us moving forward.